BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
MICHAEL DIXON FROM A DECISION ) Docket No. 2000-153
OF THE LARAMIE COUNTY BOARD )
OF EQUALIZATION -- 2000 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
FINDINGS OF FACT
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
DECISION AND ORDER
Michael Dixon, Pro Se.
Peter Froelicher, Laramie County Attorney, for Brenda Arnold, Laramie County
This matter was considered by the State Board of Equalization (SBOE), Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman, Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman and Sylvia Lee Hackl, Member, on written information pursuant to a Briefing Order (Locally Assessed Property) dated October 16, 2000. The appeal arises from a decision of the Laramie County Board of Equalization (CBOE) affirming the amended 2000 taxable valuation by the Laramie County Assessor (Assessor) of real property and improvements owned by Michael Dixon (Petitioner) located in Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming. The issue is:
Was the CBOE decision affirming the Assessor's amended taxable value of Petitioner's property supported by substantial evidence, according to procedures required by law, and neither arbitrary, capricious, nor inconsistent with law?
The SBOE is mandated to "hear appeals from county boards of equalization . . . upon application of any interested person adversely affected" and hold hearings after due notice pursuant to the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act and prescribed rules and regulations. Wyo. Stat. 39-11-102.1(c). An appeal from a CBOE decision must be filed with the SBOE within thirty (30) days from entry of the decision. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, 2.
Petitioner appealed the Assessor's 2000 taxable valuation of $88,311 for his residence located at 4525 Crystal Avenue, Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming, to the CBOE. Prior to the CBOE hearing, the Assessor reduced the property's condition from "4" (good) to "5" (fair) resulting in an amended valuation of $82,123.
Petitioner represented himself at the CBOE hearing and testified concerning
several factors he believed were not taken into consideration by the Assessor in
valuing his property for tax purposes. The factors identified by the Petitioner
included his property's location, the cost of materials used for improvements to
his property, his property's condition, and the differences in the comparable
properties identified by the Assessor. Petitioner opined that his property
should be valued for tax purposes at $65,000.
At the CBOE hearing, the Assessor testified Petitioner's property was valued using the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system. She further testified she verified the characteristics of the property used for the valuation and made an adjustment reducing the condition of the property based on her inspection. The Assessor also testified concerning sales of comparable properties supporting her valuation.
The CBOE affirmed the Assessor's amended valuation of Petitioner's property and improvements. The CBOE issued its decision on August 4, 2000, and Petitioner appealed the decision to the SBOE.
On appeal Petitioner argues: (1) the appearance of the county attorney on behalf of the Assessor and his inability to hire either an attorney or an appraiser were prejudicial to him; (2) the Assessor's reduction in his property's condition is evidence of the arbitrariness and capriciousness of the assessment; (3) the CAMA system failed to adequately consider the external characteristics of his residence; (4) the comparable properties were not representative of his property; and (5) the value of his property should remain at the amount he paid for it, $63,000. In response the Assessor argues the CBOE's decision was supported by credible evidence sufficient to sustain the presumption of correctness afforded the Assessor's appraisal for tax purposes.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Petitioner owns the real property and improvements located at 4525 Crystal Avenue, Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming. [CBOE Transcript, Exhibit A, p. 2.]
2. An assessment schedule for Petitioner's real property and improvements was sent to Petitioner on March 20, 2000. [CBOE Transcript, Exhibit A, page 2.] Petitioner filed his appeal with the CBOE on April 17, 2000. [CBOE Record, pp. 1A-3A.]
3. The CBOE held a hearing on Petitioner's appeal on June 13, 2000. [CBOE Transcript, p.3.]
4. The Petitioner represented himself at the CBOE hearing. The Assessor was represented at the hearing by the Laramie County Attorney. [CBOE Transcript, p. 2.]
5. The evidence presented at the CBOE hearing and set out in detail in the CBOE's findings shows the Petitioner testified to several factors which he felt were not taken into consideration in the valuation of his property for tax purposes. The factors he identified included: (a) location of his property at the corner of Crystal and Del Range (traffic congestion, cigarette butts and garbage thrown by motorists, foot traffic), on the Wyoming National Guard and base flight path (noise and lights), near a pasture or stable (flies and odor), and next to a city owned property (turnover, littering, noise); (b) the poor condition of his fence, roof, garage door and driveway; (c) the valuations of an awning and a shed at more than the cost of the materials used by Petitioner in their construction; and (d) the use of comparable properties not identical to Petitioner's property in layout, location or square footage. [CBOE Transcript, pp. 6-13, 23-24.]
6. Petitioner did not present an appraisal for his residence. [CBOE Transcript, p. 13.] Nor did Petitioner have any specific problem with the way the Assessor appraised his property or the method used. [CBOE Transcript, pp. 13-14.]
7. At the hearing the Petitioner stated: "I just feel because of the items that I presented, it should be valued less than what it was appraised at." [CBOE Transcript, p. 14.]
8. The Assessor testified at the hearing to her qualifications, experience and certification as a property tax appraiser. [CBOE Transcript, p. 15.] The Assessor further testified the CAMA system was used to determine the taxable value of Petitioner's property. [CBOE Transcript, pp. 26-27.]
9. The Assessor testified field appraisers had viewed Petitioner's property on May 6, 1999, to update the property's characteristics. On March 20, 2000, the assessment schedule was mailed out reflecting a taxable value of $88,311. After meeting with Petitioner, the Assessor viewed the property and reduced its condition rating from four (average) to five (fair) resulting in an amended assessment being sent to Petitioner on May 18, 2000, reflecting a taxable value of $82,123. [CBOE Transcript, pp. 14-17; Exhibit A, pp. 2-3.]
10. The Assessor also testified concerning comparable sales, including the sale of the property across the street from Petitioner's property. She explained why an adjustment was required based on the comparable sales information and how the comparable sales in the neighborhood take into consideration the external factors identified by Petitioner and the specific characteristics of the Petitioner's property. [CBOE Transcript, pp. 18-21, 25-29; Exhibit A, pp. 4, 11-12.]
11. The CBOE issued its decision on August 4, 2000. [CBOE Record pp.48-55.]
12. Petitioner appealed the CBOE decision to the SBOE by letter dated and mailed August 28, 2000. [SBOE Record.]
13. Any Discussion above or Conclusion of Law below which includes a finding of fact may also be considered a Finding of Fact and, therefore, is incorporated herein by this reference.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
14. Petitioner's notice of appeal from the CBOE's decision was timely filed and the SBOE has jurisdiction to determine this matter. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, 2.
15. Our inquiry is limited to whether the CBOE's decision affirming the Assessor's amended 2000 taxable valuation of Petitioner's property is: (a) arbitrary, capricious and abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law; (b) in excess of statutory jurisdiction or authority; (c) without observance of procedures required by law; or (d) unsupported by substantial evidence. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, 9.
16. Petitioner first contends he was prejudiced by the appearance of the county attorney on behalf of the Assessor or by the failure to provide him with an attorney and appraiser free of charge. Both the Petitioner and Assessor are entitled to representation by an attorney of their own choosing at the CBOE hearing. Wyo. Stat. 16-3-107(j) and (k). However, there is no constitutional or statutory requirement that a taxpayer be provided either an attorney or appraiser at county expense. We find Petitioner's first contentions without merit.
17. Petitioner next asserts the Assessor's reduction in the condition rating for his property from a 4 (good) to a 5 (fair) is evidence that the Assessor's valuation was arbitrary or capricious. We disagree. Rather, we find the reduction in condition rating properly takes into consideration the physical condition of Petitioner's property, the needed repairs to the fence, roof, garage door and driveway. The reduction was warranted by Petitioner's own testimony concerning the condition of his property and leads to the conclusion that the Assessor's amended value was not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.
18. The remainder of Petitioner's contentions raise the question of whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record reasonably supporting the conclusions reached by the CBOE.
19. All taxable property must be valued annually at fair market value. Wyo. Stat. 39-13-103(b)(ii). Fair market value is defined as:
[T]he amount in cash, or terms reasonably equivalent to cash, a well informed buyer is justified in paying for a property and a well informed seller is justified in accepting, assuming neither party to the transaction is acting under undue compulsion, and assuming the property has been offered in the open market for a reasonable time . . . .
Wyo. Stat. 39-11-101(a)(vi).
20. Article 15, Section 11, Wyo. Const. provides "[a]ll propertyshall be uniformly assessed for taxation, and the legislature shall prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation for taxation of all property, real and personal."
21. All taxable property is to be valued at its fair market value. ". . . [T]he department shall prescribe by rule and regulation the appraisal methods and systems for determining fair market value using generally accepted appraisal standards." Wyo. Stat. 39-13-103(b)(ii).
22. The Department of Revenue has promulgated rules prescribing the methods for valuing taxable property. The acceptable methods include a sales comparison approach, a cost approach, an income or capitalized earnings approach and Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA). Rules, Department of Revenue, Ch. 9, 6 (a), (b), (c) and (d). If an assessor uses more than one approach that leads to a different value conclusion, the assessor must reconcile which is the most suitable value and approach for the type of property being valued. Rules, Department of Revenue, Ch. 9, 7.
23. The Assessor utilized the CAMA system to value Petitioner's property. No other appraisal method or value supported by another appraisal method was presented to the CBOE by Petitioner.
24. An assessor's valuation is presumed valid, accurate, and correct, a presumption which survives until overturned by credible evidence. Teton Valley Ranch v. State Board of Equalization, 735 P. 2d 107,113 (Wyo. 1987). A mere difference of opinion as to value is not sufficient to overturn this presumption. J. Ray McDermott & Company v. Hudson, 370 P. 2d 364, 370 (Wyo. 1962). The presumption is especially valid where, as herein, the Assessor valued the property according to the Department's Rules and Regulations which provide for the use of the CAMA system in the assessment of real property. Rules, Department of Revenue, Chapter 9, 6(b) and (d).
25. The Wyoming Supreme Court has recognized the validity of valuations derived from the CAMA system. Gray v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 896 P.2d 1347 (Wyo. 1995). In fact, the Court rejected the use of actual sales price for properties in favor of the value established by the CAMA system because of the equality and uniformity derived by its use. Id. at 1351.
26. In determining whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record that reasonably supports the conclusions reached by the CBOE we will not substitute our judgment for findings reasonably supported by evidence in the CBOE record. Laramie County Board of Equalization v. State Board, 915 P.2d 1184, 1188-1189 (Wyo.1996);Amax Coal v. State Bd. Of Equalization, 819 P.2d 825 (Wyo. 1991); Sage Club, Inc. v. Employment Sec. Comm'n., 601 P.2d 1306, 1310 (Wyo. 1979). While substantial evidence may be less than the weight of the evidence, it cannot be clearly contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. As the Wyoming Supreme Court has stated, substantial evidence ". . . is more than a mere scintilla of evidence or suspicion of a fact to be established." Mountain Fuel Supply Company v. Public Service Commission of Wyoming, 662 P.2d 878, 882 (Wyo. 1983). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept in support of the conclusions of the agency." Amax Coal v. State Bd. Of Equalization, 819 P.2d 825, 828 (Wyo. 1991).
27. The Wyoming Supreme Court has held that "an agency's action is arbitrary and capricious and must be reversed if any essential finding is not supported by substantial evidence." Amax Coal West, Inc., 896 P.2d 1329, 1335 (Wyo. 1995); citing, Majority of working interest owners in Buck Draw Field Area v. Wyoming Oil and Gas conservation Commission, 721 P.2d 1070,1079 (Wyo. 1986) and Amax Coal v. State Bd. Of Equalization, 819 P.2d 825 (Wyo. 1991). "Substantial evidence is that quantum of relevant evidence which would be accepted by a reasonable mind as adequate to support the conclusion." Gray v. Wyoming State Bd. Of Equalization 896 P.2d 1347, 1348 (Wyo. 1995).
28. Much of Petitioner's testimony focused on the external or environmental factors he felt negatively affected the value of his property and improvements. However, the testimony of the Assessor demonstrated how these environmental factors were taken into consideration in the CAMA system and supported by comparable sales of other properties in Petitioner's neighborhood.
29. Petitioner's objection to the use of comparable sales because of differences between his property and the comparable properties is without merit. The information on each property collected and entered into the CAMA system accounts for the differences between the properties. The comparable sales information is then used to adjust the taxable value of all the properties in the neighborhood to reflect the changes in value reflected by the sales.
30. Finally, Petitioner testified concerning the cost of materials used to construct a porch cover and shed. We recently discussed the difference between "cost of construction" and "cost approach" in In the Matter of the Appeal by the Laramie County Assessor (Thiel), SBOE Docket No. 99-106 at page 5. (January 28, 2000).
It is important to note that the [Department of Revenue] rules contain definitions and formulas for use of the approaches. The Petitioner confused construction costs with the "Cost Approach". The "Cost Approach" for appraisal purposes is determined by the determination of typical reproduction or replacement costs, not actual construction costs. Department of Revenue Rules Ch. 9 Section 6 (b)(iii). This distinction is important to recognize for two reasons. The first reason is uniformity of assessment. If one property contains exorbitant costly materials and another property similar in all characteristics contains salvaged materials both must be uniformly assessed, Gray v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 896 P.2d 1347 (Wyo. 1995). The second reason is that the value of property for tax purposes is fair market value; therefore, property must be assessed for what it will be worth to a willing buyer who may not be concerned about the construction costs. Therefore, evidence of the cost of materials is not material for the "Cost Approach" because generally accepted appraisal standards determine fair market value by assuming typical construction costs.
31. The CBOE affirmed the valuation placed on the porch cover and shed by the Assessor. While Petitioner testified to the cost of materials used in the construction of these two structures, he did not dispute the Assessor's measurements, assigned age or condition. The cost of construction materials is not a method to appraise property under the Department of Revenue Rules or generally accepted appraisal methods. While the cost of construction materials may be relevant in the cost method, additional components must be factored into the equation. The components considered by the cost method include direct costs such as materials, labor, supervision, equipment rentals, installation of components, and utilities and indirect costs which include architecture and engineering, building permits, insurance, interest and fees on construction loans, taxes during construction and reasonable overhead and profit. Petitioner failed to present evidence on the other components. The standard for taxation purposes is fair market value. Without additional evidence on the other cost components, the CBOE was justified in finding that Petitioner failed to meet his burden of showing his property was assessed incorrectly, erroneously or in an otherwise unlawful manner.
32. We conclude, based on the record, the CBOE decision affirming the Assessor's amended value of Petitioner's property was supported by substantial evidence, according to procedures required by law, and not arbitrary, capricious or inconsistent with law.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED:
The decision of the Laramie County Board of Equalization affirming the Assessor's 2000 fair market value of Petitioner's real property and improvements is affirmed.
Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. 16-3-114 and Rule 12, Wyoming Rules of AppellateProcedure, any person aggrieved or adversely affected in fact by this decision may seek judicial review in the appropriate district court by filing a petition for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.
DATED this 27th day of February, 2001.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman
Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman
Sylvia Lee Hackl, Member
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary