Meijer Successfully Appeals Property Tax Bill; Millions of Dollars at Stake for Indiana Counties

The Indiana Board of Tax Review recently ruled that a Meijer store located in Indianapolis should have been assessed at the equivalent of $30 per square foot, not at $83 per square foot as originally determined by the Marion County Assessor in 2012. This means Meijer would only be responsible for paying almost one-third less than the original assessment.

The court’s decision covered 9 years of assessments, going back as far as 2002. Therefore, Marion County could owe Meijer a $2.4 million refund. According to Meijer, it will not be pursuing property-tax appeals for all of its Indiana stores. Instead, Meijer is hoping to enter into a settlement agreement with Marion County.

The Marion County Assessor’s office has not yet confirmed whether it will appeal the decision to a higher court. Unless this decision is successfully appealed and reversed, this case will change how all Indiana big-box stores are assessed in the future. In coming to its conclusion, the court agreed with Meijer’s assertion that “big-box” stores should be valued looking strictly at the value of the “box,” not the “highest and best use” value. Valuing the store based only on the value of the “box” means treating all big-box stores the same, whether operational or vacant.

Since millions of tax dollars are at stake, which many counties depend on for revenue, the Indiana legislature was quick to respond on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, with a bill addressing tax bills on big-box stores. The bill, which would require certain special-purpose properties to be assessed based on the cost of construction for the first seven years, unanimously passed the Indiana Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.

Because the assessed value of commercial property can greatly affect Indiana commercial real estate owners, the attorneys are Bowers Harrison are closely monitoring this issue as it develops. Please subscribe to our blog or check back for more details. If you have any questions regarding the assessed value of your land, or any other real estate issues, please contact us at (812) 426-1231.

Bowers Harrison Partner Greg Granger Elected Warrick County Circuit Court Judge

Bowers Harrison Partner Greg Granger has been elected Warrick County Circuit Court Judge. He won his bid Tuesday night earning nearly 60% of the ballots cast.

Greg, a lifelong Indiana resident, has been an attorney dedicated to his clients for more than 30 years, representing a variety of local residents and businesses in criminal, business, immigration, and sports law matters. He has also served as attorney for the Warrick County Council since 2001.

“The attorneys and staff at Bowers Harrison have been like a second family to me since I moved to the Evansville area more than 28 years ago,” said Greg. “Throughout this period I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated and extremely talented individuals. As I prepare to commence a new journey in my legal career I will always cherish the friendships and adventures I have experienced during my time at Bowers Harrison.”

Upon hearing the news of Greg’s election, Bower Harrison Partner David Gray had this to say:

“It has been my pleasure to work with Greg for many years. He is an excellent attorney and a good and honorable man. I and everyone else at Bowers Harrison will miss him, but the sting of our loss will be lessened by the knowledge that the good people of Warrick County will be gaining yet another dedicated and capable judge.”

Greg will continue to practice law and represent his clients at Bowers Harrison for the remainder of 2014 as he transitions into his new role as Warrick County Circuit Court Judge beginning January 2015.

Bowers Harrison Partner Greg Granger Picked to Run for Warrick County Circuit Court Judge

Bowers Harrison Partner Greg Granger has been selected to fill the vacant Republican candidate position for Warrick Circuit Court Judge. Greg, a lifelong Indiana resident, has been an attorney dedicated to his clients for more than 30 years. He represents a variety of local residents, in both civil and criminal matters, business law, immigration, and sports law. He has also served as attorney for the Warrick County Council since 2001.

In running for the Warrick Circuit Court Judge, Greg said, “I am honored to have been selected by the Republican Party as its candidate for judge of the Warrick County Circuit Court. My campaign will be driven by my enthusiasm, determination and confidence in my ability to serve the residents of Warrick County. I’m incredibly blessed to live in Warrick County and would love to serve a community that has given so much to my family and me over the years. My promise is to use every ounce of my ability to decide each case with diligence and a firm commitment to the rule of law.”

Greg will continue to practice law and represent his clients at Bowers Harrison, while running for office. For more information, please view the Evansville Courier & Press article by clicking here.

Joseph H. Harrison Retiring from Bowers Harrison, LLP

Joseph H. Harrison, a founding member and former managing partner of Bowers Harrison, LLP, has retired after sixty years of practicing law. He represented numerous businesses and individuals in the Evansville area concerning their daily business and personal needs. Mr. Harrison had primary responsibility for matters relating to corporate, banking and other commercial and business transactions, including real estate development, tax and estate planning, real property titles and title insurance, and acquisitions and divestitures. He has extensive experience before the United States Tax Court and in the preparation and funding of real estate and mineral transactions.

Mr. Harrison was admitted to practice in Indiana and the District of Columbia as well as being admitted to practice before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, United States Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit and the United States Tax Court. He was a member of the Evansville Bar Association, Indiana State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.

Everyone at Bowers Harrison thanks Joe for his service and wishes him well in his retirement.

One Battle Is Over, But The War Over Energy Production In Southern Indiana Rages On

A few months ago, the Indiana Supreme Court came down with a decision that greatly impacts the ongoing, energy dispute in Southern Indiana.  To be specific, the Supreme Court’s decision upheld a contract between the Indiana Finance Authority (“IFA”) and Indiana Gasification, LLC for the purchase and sale of substitute natural gas (“SNG Contract”). Signed in early 2011, the SNG Contract authorized the construction of a new plant in nearby Rockport, Indiana that would allegedly generate substitute natural gas, bring a substantial number of construction, plant, and mining jobs to the region, and save energy customers money. It was heralded as “big step forward” in achieving Indiana’s goal of “becom[ing] a national leader in homegrown clean energy production,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Certain advocacy groups and recent studies, however, argue that the SNG Contract will not benefit the region. As background, the $2.65 billion dollar SNG Contract arose out of the Indiana General Assembly’s adoption of pro-SNG legislation starting in 2009. The legislation was intended to address growing concerns about the short supply of natural gas markets and the exponentially increasing prices of that resource. Since that time, however, unforeseen technological advances and increases in production of natural gas have caused supply to rise and prices to drop.  Those market forces have dropped the price of natural gas so much so that the price of synthetic or substitute natural is more expensive than natural gas. Opponents to the SNG Contract now predict that the combination of these recent changes and the SNG Contract will cost Indiana government and Indiana citizens between $1.2 to $1.9 billion dollars in gross domestic product over the next decade and reduce Indiana employment rates.

That dire prediction is why some interested parties recently sought to invalidate the SNG Contract through the court system. Opponents to the SNG Contract argued that the 30-year, $2.65 billion dollar SNG Contract should be deemed invalid and unenforceable because the definition of “retail end use customers” in the SNG Contract was not consistent with Indiana’s Substitute Natural Gas Act (“SNG Act”). The SNG Act requires that the SNG purchased by the government must be allocated to “retail end use customers,” which are defined as customers acquiring energy “at retail for the customer’s own consumption.” The original version of the SNG Contract, however, defined industrial “transport customers” as “retail end use customers,” which opponents to the SNG Contract argued was not consistent with the statutory language of the SNG Act.

Based on that argument, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the government’s original approval of the SNG Contract, and in response to the Court of Appeals decision, IFA and Indiana Gasification amended the SNG Contract by deleting the improper definition. All other provisions of the SNG Contract, save that definition, remained untouched. The Court of Appeals denied rehearing of the issue, even after the SNG Contract had been amended, asserting that the SNG Contract had already been invalidated. Upon motion by the IFA and Indiana Gasification, the Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana then granted a transfer so that it could examine the validity of the SNG Contract.

Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court found that the original definition of “retail end use customers” of the SNG Contract was incompatible with the statutory definition laid down in the SNG Act. The Supreme Court then tackled the issue of whether the revised SNG Contract was enforceable. IFA and Indiana Gasification argued that, by amending the definitional language, the definitional problem was no longer a ground to render the SNG Contract invalid. The opponents of the SNG Contract, however, argued that the previous ruling by the Court of Appeals rendering the SNG Contract invalid made the revised SNG Contract “void and unenforceable in its entirety.”

After examining the issues, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the amended SNG Contract properly defined “retail end use customers” and was thereby compatible with the SNG Act. Moreover, the amendment rendered moot the definition issue, which had served as the basis for the appeal. The Indiana Supreme Court further explained that the argument that the SNG Contract was void after the Court of Appeals decision was unsuccessful because, when the Indiana Supreme Court grants a transfer, the underlying opinion of the lower court is, for all purposes, vacated. The Indiana Supreme Court therefore held that “upon [the] Court’s grant of transfer, any invalidation of the [retail end use customers] definitional provision was undone.” Since the SNG Contract was no longer invalid under the Court of Appeals decision and because the SNG Contract had been amended to include definitional language consistent with the SNG Act, the Supreme Court found that the controversy no longer existed and that the SNG Contract remains valid and enforceable.

The Indiana high court’s decision is essentially a win for the proponents of the SNG Contract. Under that decision, the IFA and Indiana Gasification do not have regulatory review and approval of the agreement. That being said, while the opposition to the SNG Contract may have lost the battle in the courts, it is certainly not admitting defeat. The opponents to the SNG Contract could reignite this ongoing dispute in the houses of congress. In January 2013, Indiana Senator Doug Eckerty brought forth Indiana Senate Bill 510, which is intended to void the SNG Contract. While Indiana Senate Bill 510 has already been passed in the Indiana Senate, it has not yet been passed by the house and signed into law. If passed and signed into law, that bill could potentially invalidate the SNG Contract for the Rockport facility and/or jeopardize potential funding for the project. With the recent Indiana Supreme Court decision and the battle in the courts coming to a close, it is possible that the battle over energy production in Southern Indiana could be revving up, with the houses of congress as the new theater of war.

If you have questions pertaining to the content of this article or any other questions about natural resource law, please contact the attorneys at Bowers Harrison.

Bowers Harrison, LLP Secures Major Rezoning in Evansville

Bowers Harrison, LLP secured a major rezoning for 13 acres of undeveloped land located at the intersection of East Virginia Street and Kimber Lane, between Burkhardt Road and Green River Road on Evansville’s East Side.

The rezoning was recommended for approval by the Evansville Area Planning Commission on January 9, 2014, and was unanimously approved by the Evansville City Council on February 10, 2014. The property was successfully rezoned from a Residential District (R-1) to a General Commercial District (C-4), with a use and development commitment restricting those uses classified in Use Group 21 (see Section 18.125.240 of the Evansville Municipal Code for more information). 

Obtaining the necessary zoning or permits for a development project can be very challenging, if you do not have an experienced real estate attorney to navigate you through the process. Zoning and land use ordinances are complex and constantly changing. Securing a rezoning requires special knowledge of local procedure as well as relevant zoning and land use laws. 

The Real Estate and Title Services Department at Bowers Harrison LLP is highly experienced in working with clients on complex commercial zoning, land use, and real estate development projects throughout Southwest Indiana. If you are in need of representation in any zoning, land use, or real estate development matter, please contact us at (812) 426-1231

Paul Black, ‘Of Counsel’ Attorney at Bowers Harrison, Recognized for Nonprofit Work

Paul Black, 'Of Counsel' attorney at Bowers Harrison, was recently featured in the article “A ‘Vital’ Part of Charitable Giving” in the Evansville Business Journal December 2013 edition.  The article describes Paul’s long history with United Caring Services, a day shelter in Evansville, that provides three meals a day, every day of the year for anyone in need.  Beginning in 1991, Paul helped the shelter set up as a nonprofit, and continuing in 2012, when he helped it merge with Ruth’s House.

Through a variety of actions, including board service and firm quarterly community service projects, Bowers Harrison attorneys and staff actively work to improve the community in which we live and work.

 

Indiana’s Expungement Law

In Indiana this year, a new law was passed that makes it easier for individuals, who were arrested or convicted of certain crimes, to restrict the access to those records.  Also, for employers, the law changes the types of questions it may ask of applicants, making it illegal to discriminate against any individual on the basis of a criminal conviction or arrest that has been sealed or expunged.

What is ‘Expungement’ in Indiana?

In Indiana, ‘expungement’ can either mean the court-ordered destruction or sealing of records.  If the records are destroyed, they are no longer available to the general public or any state or federal agency. If the records are sealed, access to them is restricted and may only be released by court order or to a law enforcement officer acting in the course of his or her official duty.

What is the Effect of Indiana’s Expungement Law on Individuals?

Previously, Indiana only allowed criminal records to be expunged if (1) a person was arrested but not charged with a crime, or (2) if a person was arrested and criminal charges were filed but those charges were later dropped because of (a) mistaken identity, (b) no offense was in fact committed, or (c) there was an absence of probable cause. 

With the new law, an individual may have his or her criminal records expunged if 1) there are no charges pending against the individual, 2) his or her driver’s license is not suspended, and 3) he or she has not been convicted of a criminal offense for a certain period of years.  The period of years depends on the level of criminal offense:

  • For an eligible misdemeanor or a Class D felony that was reduced to a misdemeanor, criminal records of that conviction may be expunged after five years from the date of conviction;
  • For a less serious Class D felony, records may be expunged after 8 years from the completion of the sentence, including probation; and
  • For certain serious felony convictions, records may be expunged after 10 years from the completion of the sentence, including any supervised release.

What is the Effect of Indiana’s Expungement Law on Employers?

Employers must now be mindful of the fact that an applicant may have had his or her criminal record expunged and may not use that information against the applicant. While employers may still ask about non-expunged criminal history, the law proscribes the type of question that an employer may ask

Take Note

For individuals, in Indiana, an individual may only file one petition for expungement in his or her lifetime.  The only exception to that rule is if your petition for expungement is denied, you may file another petition after 3 years. For employers, employers may be liable for damages, if they reject an applicant based upon an expunged criminal record.

If you have questions on this issue or any other criminal law issue, please contact us.