Monday, February 10, 2014

Board Finds Respondent with Burden Supported Assessed Value of Taxpayer's Land

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

c. Again, the Respondent conceded the 2011 assessment determined by the PTABOA is incorrect. And the parties agreed the improvements are assessed correctly at $110,300. The dispute is about the land value. The Respondent testified the land value should be reduced to a value of $75,200 for a total assessed value of $185,500.

d. There is no dispute that the Petitioners used a portion of the property to sell agriculturally produced products. Meyer Creative Landscapes is located on the subject property and files a Business Tangible Personal Property Assessment Return under Meyer Creative Landscapes using the subject property as the business address. It has commercial buildings on it, includes parking area, storage area, and necessary support land; and is used as primary land for the Petitioners’ landscaping business. The evidence is sufficient to establish that Respondent properly re-classified .5 acre to primary commercial land.

e. In support of the primary commercial land base rate, the Respondent relied on the rate of $50,000 per acre as set by the Land Commission and also identified two sales of purportedly comparable properties. The first comparable is 5.73 acres of vacant land that sold for $80,278 per acre in 2007. Like the subject, it is in a rural area located on State Highway 231. The second comparable was 2.076 acres of vacant land that sold for $90,318 per acre in 2009. It is also in a rural area located just off State Highway 231. These parcels vary significantly in both size and price per acre when compared to the Petitioners’ parcel. The sale dates were 2007 and 2009, which could be problematic. The Respondent, however, also performed sales ratio studies of land in Bainbridge Township each year and did not change the commercial primary land base rate of $50,600 per acre from 2002 to 2011. This fact demonstrates the stability of the market value of land in Bainbridge Township over a period of almost ten years. These facts evaluated together are some evidence that the market value of the primary commercial land would be no less than $50,000 per acre as of March 1, 2011.

f. As support for a much lower land value, the Petitioners introduced two PRCs of purportedly comparable properties to show these properties had a lower land base rate than the subject parcel. But in order to effectively use a comparison approach to value a property, the proponent must establish actual comparability. Conclusory statements that a property is “similar” or “comparable” to another property do not constitute probative evidence of comparability. Long, 821 N.E.2d at 470. Instead, comparability must be proved through comparisons of the characteristics of the subject property and the comparables. Here, the properties identified by the Petitioners are classified as commercial and the land is assessed as undeveloped usable. The Petitioners, however, failed to demonstrate these properties are comparable to their parcel.

g. The statewide agricultural land base rate value in 2010 was $1,250 per acre based on a six-year rolling average of market value-in-use as calculated by the DLGF pursuant to 50 IAC 21-6-1(a).3 Using the six-year rolling average mandated by the Legislature, the DLGF determined the agricultural base rate for 2011 would be $1,500 per acre. Resp’t Ex. C. The Petitioners request for a return to the 2010 base rate of $1,290 is contrary to the Legislature’s instructions and unavailable.

h. From this evidence, the Respondent showed the assessed value should be $185,500. Specifically, the Petitioners agreed the 2010 assessment was correct and they agreed with the 2011 assessed value for their improvements. The dispute is only about the 2011 land value. The Petitioners also agreed they operate a commercial landscaping business on a portion of the parcel. Accordingly, to determine the 2011 land value ($75,200), the Assessor reclassified .5 acres from tillable land to primary commercial land and used the 2011 agriculture land base rates to calculate the value of the remaining agricultural acres. Resp’t Ex. I-1. The value of the .5 acres is $25,000. The soil types and negative influence factors due to flooding were not changed from the 2010 assessment, which the Petitioner agreed is correct. From this the Assessor correctly determined that the property’s total value for 2011 was $185,500.

i. The Petitioners claimed their property did not have the needed utilities to support a major commercial operation. Assuming the truth of that statement, the Petitioners presented no market evidence to quantify the impact of the alleged deficiency or show that the assessment is not a reasonable measure of the property’s true tax value. See Eckerling, 841 N.E.2d at 677 (holding when a taxpayer chooses to challenge an assessment, he or she must show that the assessor's assessed value does not accurately reflect the property's market value-in-use. Strict application of the regulations is not enough to rebut the presumption that the assessment is correct).

j. The Petitioners spent much of their time arguing that the PTABOA did not properly consider their contentions and was improperly constituted. The credibility of these contentions is weakened by the fact the Petitioners did not appear at the PTABOA hearing to argue their position. Regardless, those claims are irrelevant at this point. The Board’s proceedings are de novo, and nothing about how the PTABOA was constituted or conducted its deliberations hindered the Petitioners from presenting their valuation case to the Board.