Lack of order may hold up tax relief

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By Damon Lawrence

The state law that provides relief from delinquent property tax penalties requires an order from a court finding TVA responsible for damage to an applicant’s property.

There are questions about whether such an order exists.

In August 2012, Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan issued an order that said nondiscretionary conduct on the part of TVA caused the ash spill in Roane County.

“TVA will therefore be liable for damages to each plaintiff, provided each plaintiff is able to demonstrate in the Phase II proceedings his or her entitlement to relief under claims of negligence, trespass, and/or private nuisance,” Varlan said.

The Phase II proceedings have never taken place. Varlan ordered TVA and the plaintiffs into mediation in November 2012. The mediation is still ongoing.

The ash spill occurred on Dec. 22, 2008, at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant.

The law that provides for relief of delinquent property tax penalties was introduced and passed last year by the General Assembly. It was sponsored by state Sen. Ken Yager and state Rep. Kent Calfee.

Delinquent taxpayers accrue penalties and interest on their tax bills. The law provides relief from penalties and interest imposed for the 2009 and 2010 tax years because of the ash spill.

“Property shall be deemed substantially damaged when, as a consequence of such coal ash spill, it has been rendered unfit for use or occupancy, or the owner has filed legal action against TVA in the appropriate court of law, and the court has issued an order finding TVA responsible for the damage,” the law states.

Roane County Executive Ron Woody said he’s not sure anyone would qualify because of the way the law is written.

“I have not seen a court order that said TVA caused damage to property XYZ,” Woody said. “If there is one, the person who claims it needs to bring that judgment to us.”

People applying for the relief have to fill out an application that asks for a description of the property damage and a court finding of TVA responsibility.

Kingston developer Matt Caldwell has applied for relief. The order included with his paperwork is the one Varlan issued in August 2012 that said plaintiffs will have to prove their damages during the Phase II trial, which has yet to take place.

Caldwell has sued TVA, but nowhere in Varlan’s order does it state TVA is responsible for damages to his properties.

“There may be an order that says TVA conduct caused the spill, but I’m not so sure the court has issued an order finding TVA responsible for damage to a particular property,” Woody said.