SUNDAY EDITION | Where is the county line? Prospect homeowner’s lawsuit raises questions about boundary between Jefferson, Oldham
One Prospect homeowner's persistent battle against county officials has raised legitimate questions about the exact location of the Jefferson-Oldham county line.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Before Donald Fulton and his wife, Wanda, bought their newly constructed, $583,000 home in Prospect in 2001, there was one important thing they needed to figure out: which county it was in.
The 4,800-square-foot home on Westover Drive, off Covered Bridge Road, sits right on the Jefferson-Oldham County line, according to a 1989 land survey approved by planning officials in both counties.
Donald Fulton, a 63-year-old semi-retired radiologist and attorney, said he recalls getting assurance the couple could be considered Oldham County residents.
“My personal preference is Oldham, and that’s why I bought this property,” Fulton said.
He checked his electrical panel – it was permitted by Oldham County – and registered to vote as an Oldham resident.
For 16 years, both Oldham and Jefferson counties have taxed portions of the Fultons’ 1.4-acre lot, but the tax bill for their house has always come solely from Oldham County.
Yet, if you look at the official mapping system used by Louisville Metro government and many other local agencies, the Fultons’ house – and some 80 percent of their lot -- is clearly in Jefferson County.
The mapping system commonly used today places the county line, in Fulton’s estimation, about 110 feet southwest of the 1989 professional survey of his subdivision – the official document which created his lot and is filed in the land records systems of both counties.
Fulton noticed the discrepancy in early 2016. Since then, he has undertaken a quixotic battle against officials in both counties.
In a lawsuit filed in Oldham County earlier this year, Fulton and his next-door neighbors accuse Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator Tony Lindauer of “moving” the line in an underhanded “land grab.”
While the PVAs of both counties deny that in court papers, Fulton’s persistence seems to have revealed legitimate uncertainty about the exact boundary between the two counties – a line that dates to the formation of Oldham County in 1823.
Prompted by Fulton’s complaints, an attorney at the Kentucky Department of Revenue researched the issue last year and concluded that, “it appears that the exact location of the Jefferson/Oldham County line has long been in dispute.”
In a six-page memo dated Nov. 16, 2016, revenue department attorney Richard Bertelson said the only practical way to resolve the issue is for Louisville Metro government and Oldham County Fiscal Court to agree to have a survey or other means of determining the line, the result of which could be codified by the state legislature.
But the line in question spans about 10 miles from the Ohio River to Floyd’s Fork and cuts through many other subdivisions. Any effort to re-evaluate its location could have big implications for hundreds of homeowners, including which school district their children attend.
There is no indication that officials in either county want to broach the subject.
The counties have so far opposed Fulton’s lawsuit on procedural grounds.
Fulton, who acknowledges being an “inexperienced litigator,” has made a number of missteps while prosecuting the suit on behalf of himself and his neighbors, Timothy and Michelle Jones.
Oldham County Attorney John Carter said in a phone interview that, even if there is a dispute as to the precise location of the county line, Fulton’s lawsuit is “not the venue for making that challenge.”
Josh Abner, a spokesman for Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell’s office – which represents Lindauer’s office and Metro government -- declined to comment because the case is pending.
Lindauer also declined to comment, citing his attorney’s advice.
But in a set of written responses to Fulton’s questions, completed for Kentucky’s tax appeal board last year, a top official in Lindauer’s office sought to explain why the PVA attempted to tax a bigger portion of Fulton’s lot in 2016 than it had in previous years.
When Fulton’s lot was created in 1989, there was “an agreement” between the Oldham and Jefferson PVAs that the acreage was split roughly in half between the two counties, based on the “approximate” county line shown in surveys, according to Jason Hancock, the Jefferson County PVA’s director of valuation.
But in 2015, as Lindauer’s office performed its regular computer-assisted appraisal of the fair-market value of properties in the northeast portion of the county, it “received information” from the Louisville/Jefferson County Information Consortium that “the actual Jefferson County line was in a different location” and that more of Fulton’s lot was in Jefferson County than previously shown, Hancock wrote.
The consortium, called LOJIC, is “geographic information system” – or GIS – partnership whose between Metro government, Lindauer’s office, the Louisville Water Co. and the Metropolitan Sewer District.
The maps Lindauer’s office uses are ultimately derived from maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, according to the 2016 memo by Bertelson, the state Department of Revenue attorney.
But the USGS, Bertelson wrote, has never surveyed the precise boundaries of Oldham County as described in the 1823 act from which the county was created. That written description makes reference to individual properties like “Henry Dorsey’s mill” and “the house (of) John Hewlitt” as a guide the county boundaries.
The USGS map, therefore, is “a good starting point” for determining the location of the county line, but not “legally binding,” Bertelson wrote.
Fulton said he merely wants the counties to determine the correct placement of the line with respect to his lot and that of his neighbors – and not to have all 10 miles re-evaluated.
“I don’t want to deal with the big picture,” he said.
While his step children are grown, Fulton said it would be difficult to sell his house without being able to tell the buyers which school district it’s in.
“It’s a small change as far as distance goes, but it has big repercussions,” he said.