SALISBURY CRIME: Identity theft to avoid apprehension

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City officials said they needed to change how sewer projects are funded because the Barrett Law was unpopular and thousands of septic systems in Marion County are failing.

The city argues it had three choices for how to transition to the new system. It could have continued to collect on the more than 40 projects that still had outstanding balances, a process that would take nearly 30 years. It could have refunded every payment ever made under the old program, which would have cost a lot of money and been “an administrative nightmare.” Or, as the city decided to do, it could make a clean break from the old system.

That latter choice meant a windfall for the neighbors who hadn’t fully paid for their hookup, the city acknowledges.

“But envy does not a constitutional violation make,” the city wrote in its Supreme Court brief in advance of Wednesday’s oral arguments.

“As long as the government is even-handed about applying the effective date, there is simply no constitutional issue implicated,” the city’s attorneys wrote.

Groups representing state and local governments chimed in that the Supreme Court should not second guess a government’s decision to forgive debt, “particularly when everyone got what they paid for.” If the high court sides against Indianapolis, the groups said in their brief, then numerous policy decisions by local governments may also be challenged as unconstitutional.

“Within and outside the governmental context, creditors of all kinds forgive debt every day,” wrote lawyers for the International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But the homeowners argue that every state supreme court that has looked at tax-forgiveness programs have said they can’t favor taxpayers who paid in installments over those who paid upfront.

The city chose an unfair process just because it was cheaper and more convenient than doing what was right, attorneys for the homeowners say.

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