Judge orders sides to find areas to agree

The wheels are turning in the case of Warren General Hospital vs. Warren County Board of Assessment Appeals.

On Friday, Judge Gregory Hammond issued orders giving the parties a limited time to bring components of the case together. Those orders were taken to the Warren County prothonotary’s office on Monday.

The two groups have 30 days to stipulate – agree on facts neither side will dispute – regarding the issue of the hospital’s allegation that the board improperly acted on its own – “sua sponte” – without instruction from a taxing body in investigating and changing the hospital’s tax-exempt status.

Examples of what the sides may agree upon are aspects of the case like the actions that led up to the board’s determination and the timing of events. “If we agree on the facts, the judge can make a determination on that issue without having a hearing,” John Cambest, solicitor for the board of appeals, said.

The attorneys are working together to come up with the stipulation.

Hammond also said that the defendant – the board of appeals – has 20 days to file responsive pleadings to the consolidated equity action, exemption appeal, and assessment appeal.

“The hospital filed an appeal,” Cambest said. “We have to file an answer to that appeal within 20 days.”

That is a routine legal effort in this type of situation, he said.

At stake in the case is the property tax status of the hospital. If the hospital is ruled not tax exempt, as the board of appeals has determined, the organization will owe an estimated $1.7 million in taxes for 2014.

The organizations have already agreed to not assess 2013 taxes on the hospital and its properties.

In another previous agreement, the attorneys representing both parties agreed not to present procedural challenges except on the “sua sponte” issue.