Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Board Finds Assessor with Burden Failed to Support Assessed Value of Property Reclassified from Agricultural Land

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

Issue 1: Did the Calverts timely appeal the 2012 assessment?

24. Although a taxpayer has the right to challenge his property’s assessment, he must comply with statutory requirements for doing so in a timely manner. See Williams Industries v. State Board of Tax Commissioners, 648 N.E.2d 713, 718 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1995)

25. Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-1 establishes the deadline for filing an appeal at the local level:
(a) A taxpayer may obtain a review by the county board of a county or township official's action with respect to … the following:
(1) The assessment of the taxpayer's tangible property.
(b) At the time that notice of an action referred to in subsection (a) is given to the taxpayer, the taxpayer shall also be informed in writing of:
(1) the opportunity for a review under this section…; and
(2) the procedures the taxpayer must follow in order to obtain a review under this section.
(c) In order to obtain a review of an assessment … effective for the assessment date to which the notice referred to in subsection (b) applies, the taxpayer must file a notice in writing with the county or township official referred to in subsection (a) not later than forty-five (45) days after the date of the notice referred to in subsection (b).
(d) A taxpayer may obtain a review by the county board of the assessment of the taxpayer's tangible property effective for an assessment date for which a notice of assessment is not given as described in subsection (b). To obtain the review, the taxpayer must file a notice in writing with the township assessor, or the county assessor if the township is not served by a township assessor. The right of a taxpayer to obtain a review under this subsection for an assessment date for which a notice of assessment is not given does not relieve an assessing official of the duty to provide the taxpayer with the notice of assessment as otherwise required by this article. The notice to obtain a review must be filed not later than the later of:
(1) May 10 of the year; or (2) forty-five (45) days after the date of the tax statement mailed by the county treasurer, regardless of whether the assessing official changes the taxpayer's assessment.

I.C. § 6-1.1-15-1; see also, I.C. § 6-1.1-15-13 (providing that if notice is not otherwise given, a taxpayer’s receipt of the tax bill is his notice for purposes of determining his right to appeal).

26. Thus, the Calverts’ Form 130 petition was timely only if Mr. Calvert attempted to file it no later than 45 days after the Calverts were first given notice of their property’s 2012 assessment. On its face, the Carroll County Treasurer issued a tax statement for the 2012 assessment only 25 days before Mr. Calvert attempted to file the Form 130 petition. See Tibero Allergy Asthma Immunology of Rochester, 664 F.3d 35, 37 (2nd Cir. 2011) (“There is a presumption that a notice provided by a government agency was mailed on the date shown on the notice.”). If, as Mr. Calvert testified, the tax statement was the Calverts’ first notice of the subject property’s 2012 assessment, their appeal was timely.

27. The Assessor, however, argued that the Calverts were notified of the assessment in August 2012 when Form 11 notices were mailed. For support, she testified that the Calvert’s Form 11 notice had been mailed to the same address contained on their tax statement and that the notice had not been returned. But the Assessor did not claim to have personally mailed any of the Form 11 notices, much less the Calverts’ notice, nor did she offer any evidence to show that whoever was actually responsible for those duties followed routine business practices in mailing the Calverts’ Form 11 notice. See Indiana Sugars, 683 N.E.2d 1383, 1386 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1997) (quoting F&F Construction Co. v. Royal Globe Insurance Co., 423 N.E.2d 654 (Ind. App. Ct. 1981) (“Proof consisting of testimony from one with direct and actual knowledge of the particular message in question is required to establish proof of mailing.”); see also, U-Haul Co. of Indiana, Inc. v. Ind. Dep’t of State Revenue, 896 N.E.2d 1253, 1257 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2008) (finding that designated evidence showing the Department of Revenue had conformed to its routine business practices supported a reasonable inference that it had timely mailed an assessment). The Assessor did not even offer a copy of the Form 11 notice purportedly mailed to the Calverts.

28. Based on the evidence before it, the Board finds that the tax statement was the Calverts’ first notice of the subject property’s 2012 assessment. Their appeal was therefore timely.

29. Having found that the Calverts timely filed their appeal, the Board now turns to the merits.

Issue 2: Did the Assessor prove that the subject property’s assessment is correct?

35. Here, the Assessor justified the increase in the subject property’s assessment between 2011 and 2012 on grounds that she reclassified all wooded properties that were not part of a farm. She changed the classification for those properties from agricultural land to a mixture of homesite, excess residential, and excess agricultural land, and then applied the base rates for those classifications from what she described as the county’s land order. But the relevant statutes and regulations require land devoted to agriculture to be assessed under the DLGF’s rules for assessing agricultural land. See I.C. § 6-1.1-4-13(a) (providing that “land shall be assessed as agricultural land only when it is devoted to agricultural use.”); 2011 MANUAL ch. 2 at 78 (“[A]ll land utilized for agricultural purposes is valued as agricultural land. . . .”) (emphasis in original). The Assessor offered nothing to show how the Calverts used the subject property, much less to show that they used it for something other than agriculture. Indeed, the little evidence in the record that addresses that question—Mr. Calvert’s testimony that his family had used the land to produce a timber crop for 170 years and did not use it for hunting or other recreation—supports a contrary finding. The Assessor therefore failed to meet her burden of proving that the 2012 assessment was correct.

36. Even if the Board were to assume that the Calverts used the property for something other than agriculture, the Assessor still failed to show what the property’s market value-in-use was. Although her witness, Ms. Becker, pointed to sales of other wooded parcels in Carroll County, that sales data was not probative. Seven of the sales occurred more than 30 months before the March 1, 2012 valuation date at issue in this appeal, and Ms. Becker’s attempt to relate those sales to the valuation date was unconvincing. Those sales therefore lack probative value. See Long v. Wayne Twp. Assessor, 821 N.E.2d 466, 471 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2005) (finding that an insurance policy and appraisal lacked probative value where taxpayers failed to explain how that evidence related to their property’s value as of the relevant valuation date). In any case, Ms. Becker did little to compare any of the sold properties to the subject property or to explain how any relevant differences affected their values. See Long 821 N.E.2d at 471 (holding that taxpayer’s sales data lacked probative value where they failed to explain how the characteristics of any purportedly comparable properties compared to their property or how any differences affected the properties’ values); see also, Blackbird Farms Apts., LP v. Dep’t of Local Gov’t Fin., 765 N.E.2d 711, 715 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002) (holding that taxpayer failed to establish the comparability of parcels of land where, among other things, taxpayer did not compare topography and accessibility).