BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
JOSEPH E. PAVLUS FROM )
A DECISION OF THE BIG HORN COUNTY ) Docket No. 2001-142
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2001 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
FINDINGS OF FACT
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
DECISION AND ORDER
Joseph E. Pavlus, Petitioner, appearing pro se.
Jackie Payne, Big Horn County Assessor, Assessor, appearing pro se.
This matter was considered by the State Board of Equalization (State Board) consisting
of 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 24, 2001. The appeal arises from a decision of the Big Horn County Board of
Equalization (County Board) affirming the assessor's classification of Petitioner's
property as non-agricultural and assigning a fair market value to the property.
Petitioner timely appealed the letter of the County Board affirming the assessor. The State Board set the matter for briefing pursuant to a Briefing Order dated September 7, 2001. The State Board then determined the letter of the County Board was not sufficient for a review and remanded the matter to the County Board for a written decision that set forth with specificity the findings of fact of the County Board. On October 16, 2001, the County Board entered an Order containing findings of fact to support its position. The State Board entered an Amended Briefing Order on October 24, 2001. Petitioner failed to timely file his Opening Brief. The Board issued a Notice of Intent to Dismiss on December 19, 2001, indicating its intent to dismiss for failure to diligently prosecute. Subsequently, on December 20, 2002, Petitioner filed his letter stating his intent to rely on the Notice of Appeal as his Opening Brief. The Assessor filed a letter requesting the Appeal be dismissed because of the late filing of Petitioner or, in the alternative, agreeing to rely on the record of the County Board hearing. The State Board will consider the appeal on the merits to serve the interests of due process.
On appeal, the State Board must consider the following issue:
Was the County Board decision affirming the classification of Petitioner's land as non-agricultural supported by substantial evidence, in accordance with procedures required by law, and neither arbitrary, capricious, nor inconsistent with law?
The State Board is mandated to "hear appeals from county boards of equalization . . . upon application of any interested person adversely affected" and to 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 county board of equalization decision must be filed with the State Board within thirty (30) days from entry of the county board decision. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, 2.
Petitioner filed an appeal with the County Board challenging the 2001 estimate of fair market value established by the Assessor for property owned by Petitioner. Petitioner argues the Assessor wrongfully assigned a fair market value to the property. He asserts the Assessor's classification and assessment of the property as non-agricultural land is incorrect because the property is not fenced and therefore, livestock and wildlife can graze on the land.
The County Board affirmed the assessor's classification of valued Petitioners' property
as non-agricultural because Petitioner derives no income from the subject property and
Petitioner's use of the subject property is primarily a future residential site.
Petitioner filed a letter with the State Board on August 8, 2001, appealing the County Board's order.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Petitioner appealed to the County Board the value of one hundred twenty acres of unimproved land located in Big Horn County. The land was historically classified by the Assessor as agricultural and thus valued based on productivity rather than market value. In 2001 the Assessor reclassified the land to a non-agricultural classification and valued the land on the estimated market value. The County Board held a hearing and upheld the classification and value as determined by the Assessor. The County Board's letter order is dated July 17th, 2001. [County Board Record p. 67]. Petitioner's Notice of Appeal to this SBOE was filed on August 8, 2001. The Notice of Appeal was filed within thirty (30) days of the order.
2. Petitioner filed a letter stating his intent to rely on his Notice of Appeal as his Opening Brief on December 20, 2001. The Assessor filed her intent to rely on the County Board record on January 14, 2002. [SBOE File.]
3. The Petitioner paid approximately sixty two-thousand, four hundred dollars ($62,400.00) for the purchase of the land in 1993. [County Board Transcript, p. 5].
4. The property is not leased for grazing nor is it fenced. Petitioner does not receive
any money from the use of the land. [County Board Transcript, p. 5].
5. The property was purchased with the "idea" of building a cabin for retirement. [County Board Transcript, p. 4].
6. The Big Horn County Assessor's Office determined fair market value by determining the value of the land per acre based on the purchase price Petitioner paid and also comparing the price paid for comparable property on a per acre basis. [County Board Transcript, p. 5].
7. Petitioner failed to present any evidence as to the fair market value of the property. [County Board Record p. 66].
8. 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
9. Petitioner's Notice of Appeal was timely filed and the State Board has jurisdiction to determine this matter.
10. The State Board's inquiry is limited to whether the classification of Petitioner's land, as affirmed by the County Board is: (a) arbitrary, capricious, an 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.
11. The controlling issue before us is whether there is substantial evidence in the record that reasonably supports the conclusion reached by the County Board. As a reviewing body, we will not substitute our judgment for findings reasonably supported by evidence in the County Board record. Laramie County Board of Equalization v. State Board of Equalization, 915 P.2d 1184, 1189 (Wyo. 1996); Amax Coal v. State Board of Equalization, 819 P.2d 825 (Wyo. 1991); Sage Club, Inc. v. Employment Security Commission, 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, 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 Board of Equalization, 819 P.2d at 828.
12. 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. v. State Board of Equalization, 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 Board 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 Board of Equalization, 896 P.2d 1347, 1348 (Wyo. 1995). The taxpayer requesting agricultural classification for property has the burden of proving compliance with the statutory requirements for that classification. Appeal of the Natrona County Assessor (Pedro/Aspen, Ltd.), 1996 W.L. 308448 (Wyo. St. Bd. Eq. 94-270).
13. Section 39-13-101(a)(iii) of the Wyoming Statutes defines agricultural land as "land which has been used or employed during the previous two (2) years and presently is being used and employed for the primary purpose of obtaining a monetary profit as agricultural or horticultural use or any combination thereof . . .." (Emphasis added). The Department of Revenue's rules reiterate this definition, and add, "[A]gricultural land shall generally include land actively farmed or ranched to obtain a fair rate of return." Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, 3(a) (February 11, 1999). The Department of Revenue's rules further define "primary purpose of obtaining a monetary profit" as:
[T]he owner shall pursue agricultural or horticultural activity for a reasonable profit or at least upon the expectation of reasonable profit consistent with the productive capability of the land in question. The profit or reasonable expectation thereof shall be viewed from the standpoint of the fee owner and measured on the basis of the productive capability of the land in question.
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, 3(a)(ii).
14. The Assessor classified the land as non-agricultural in accordance with the Department of Revenue's rules. She then valued the land accordingly. An assessor's valuation is presumed valid, accurate and correct, which presumption survives until overturned by credible evidence. Basin Electric Power Coop. v. Dept. of Revenue, 970 P.2d 841, 851 (Wyo. 1998). The burden was on the Petitioner to demonstrate that the land was being "used or employed during the previous two (2) years and presently [was] being used and employed for the primary purpose of obtaining a monetary profit as agricultural or horticultural use." Wyo. Stat. 39-13-1-1(a)(iii); Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, 3(c)(x); Appeal of the Natrona County Assessor (Pedro/Aspen, Ltd.), supra.
16. In this case, the only evidence of record supporting Petitioner's claim of
agricultural use was his testimony that cattle graze his land as do wildlife. This does
not met the burden of showing that the primary purpose was to obtain a monetary profit.
17. Petitioner did not carry his burden of affirmatively documenting compliance with the statutory requirements to justify an agricultural classification. Appeal of the Natrona County Assessor (Pedro/Aspen, Ltd.), supra. The County Board's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and its order affirming the Assessor's classification and valuation of Petitioners' land is not arbitrary and capricious. Amax Coal West, Inc. v. State Board of Equalization, supra, citing Majority of Working Interest Owners in Buck Draw Field Area v. Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, supra, and Amax Coal v. State Board of Equalization, 819 P.2d 825 (Wyo. 1991).
THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED:
The decision of the Big Horn County Board of Equalization affirming the assessors non-agricultural classification of the property at issue shall be, and the same is, affirmed, and the value assigned is affirmed.
Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. 16-3-114 and Rule 12, Wyoming Rules of Appellate Procedure, 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 26th day of March, 2002.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman
Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman
Sylvia Lee Hackl, Member
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary