BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
DAVE AND MARY BANNISTER FROM )
A DECISION OF THE CROOK COUNTY ) Docket No. 2002-101
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2002 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
ARNOLA M. DAVIS FROM )
A DECISION OF THE CROOK COUNTY ) Docket No. 2002-102
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2002 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
FINDINGS OF FACT
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
DECISION AND ORDER
Dave and Mary Bannister and Arnola M. Davis, Petitioners, appearing by and through James L. Edwards, of Stevens, Edwards & Hallock, P.C.
Susan Redding, Crook County Assessor, appearing pro-se.
These matters were considered by the State Board of Equalization (State Board) consisting of Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman, and Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman, on written information pursuant to Briefing Orders (Locally Assessed Property), dated October 16, 2002. The appeals arise from identical decisions by the Crook County Board of Equalization (County Board) concerning the 2002 valuation of properties owned by Petitioners located in Crook County, Wyoming. The issue presented in each case is whether the County Board decision that Petitioners’ property is not agricultural land is supported by substantial evidence, according to 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 hold hearings after due notice pursuant to the Wyoming Administrative Procedures 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.
The State Board is required to "[d]ecide all questions that may arise with reference to the construction of any statute affecting the assessment, levy, and collection of taxes, in accordance with the rules, regulations, orders, and instructions prescribed by the department." Wyo. Stat. § 39-11-102.1(c)(iv).
These appeals concern the classification of adjacent parcels of land located in “Kara Kreek Ranches” in Crook County, Wyoming. Identical issues were raised by each Petitioner and a combined County Board hearing was held where the same evidence and testimony was received in both appeals. The Amended Order Denying Agricultural Value is the same in each case, and the same attorney is representing both parties in the appeal to the State Board. Therefore, we have chosen to issue a single decision for both appeals.
In each case, an appeal was filed with the County Board challenging the 2002 fair market value established by the Assessor for the property owned by Petitioners. Both Petitioners argue the Assessor should not have assigned a fair market value to their adjacent properties because they are agricultural. Petitioners assert the Assessor’s classification and assessment of the property as non-agricultural land is incorrect because the properties are intended to be utilized as agricultural land and should be assessed as such.
We find the County Board properly affirmed the Assessor’s valuation of Petitioners’ properties as non-agricultural because their lots were not being used for agricultural purposes.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. The County Board issued an Amended Order Denying Protest For Agricultural Value in each case dated September 4, 2002. [Bannister County Board Record, pp. 68-75; Davis County Board Record, pp. 57-64.] The Petitioners filed a joint Case Notice for Review with the State Board on September 19, 2002, within thirty days of the County Board decisions. [State Board File].
2. On December 2, 2002, Petitioners filed letters stating that they each wished to rely on the Opening Brief of Appellant filed September 18, 2002, as an Opening Brief. The County Assessor filed a Response Brief on December 16, 2002, in Docket No. 2002-101 and on December 19, 2002, in Docket No. 2002-102. Petitioners filed Reply Briefs on January 9, 2003. [State Board Files.]
3. Because the Petitioners, Assessor and County Board agreed to consolidate the two appeals for hearing, the references to the County Board Record in our Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order refer to the record in Docket 2002-101, unless otherwise specifically noted.
4. All of the Petitioners, Dave and Mary Bannister and Arnola M. Davis, have a partnership to own the land. Petitioners are the owners of two-hundred eighty-five acres (285 acres) located in the Kara Kreek Ranches Subdivision, Crook County, Wyoming. [County Board audio-recording and County Board Record, p. 40].
5. Petitioners anticipate raising winter wheat, alfalfa and hay in the future. They also hope to raise livestock and have a bee-keeping operation. However, Petitioners were not raising crops nor were they raising livestock or bees on January 1, 2002. [County Board audio-recording, County Board Record, p.40].
6. The property has an irrigation system. [County Board Record, p.40].
7. The Petitioners own a brand for livestock. [County Board Record, p.41].
8. The Petitioners purchased a tractor and erected a pole barn in 2002. [County Board audio-recording, County Board Record pp. 35, 36].
9. Petitioners plowed twenty-eight (28) acres of land and plan to plant winter wheat in 2002. [County Board audio-recording and County Board Record, p. 32].
10. Petitioners purchased the land in September, 2001, which was too late to sell hay. [County Board Record, p. 40].
11. Petitioners’ neighbor allowed cattle to trespass and graze on the property. Petitioners erected a fence on most of the land in October 2001 to stop the trespass. Petitioners’ neighbor did not pay Petitioners for the grazing. [County Board audio-recording, County Board Record p. 40].
12. Bill Gose, a neighbor of the land testified the land is good farming land but it has not been farmed for a long time. [County Board audio-recording].
13. George Strong will lease the land for grazing and would buy hay from Petitioners. David Gose and Steve Bricker will buy hay produced from the land. [County Board Record, pp. 37,38,and 39].
14. The Assessor valued the lots as non-agricultural and used comparative sales to determine value. [County Board audio-recording].
15. Any Conclusions of Law set forth below which may include any Finding of Fact is incorporated herein by this reference.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
16. Each Petitioner’s notice of appeal was timely filed and the State Board has jurisdiction to determine these matters.
17. In considering the issue of substantial evidence, the question is whether there is evidence of record to be reasonably relied upon in coming to 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. Sage Club, Inc., v. Employment Sec. Comm'n., 601 P.2d 1306 (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 many courts have stated, "[i]t 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). See also: Squillace v. Wyoming State Employees’ and Officials’ Group Insurance Board of Administration, 933 P.2d 488, 490-491 (Wyo. 1997).
18. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the law assumes public officials have performed their duties properly, unless the official act in question appears irregular on its face. Thus a public officer, such as a tax assessor, acting in an official capacity, is presumed to act with knowledge of what he is doing. 29 Am. Jur. 2d § 203 at 224.
19. The Constitution of the State of Wyoming in Article 15 Section 11 (b), as amended November 21, 1988, provides:
(b) The legislature shall prescribe the percentage of value which shall be assessed within each designated class. All taxable property shall be valued at its full value as defined by the legislature except agricultural and grazing lands which shall be valued according to the capability of the land to produce agricultural products under normal conditions.
20. Agricultural land is defined by Wyoming Statutes as follows:
“Agricultural land”, as used in W.S. 39-13-103(b)(x), means 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 is to be agricultural land for the purpose of tax assessment unless legally zoned otherwise by a zoning authority.
Wyo. Stat. § 39-13-101. Definitions(a)(iii).
21. The applicable Department of Revenue rule defines agricultural land as follows:
(a) “Agricultural land” means 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 unless legally zoned otherwise by a zoning authority. Agricultural 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)
22. Prior State Board decisions about the classification of land for agriculture valuation provide guidance in this decision. The primary test was enunciated In the Matter of the Appeal of Paul T. Von Gontard, et. al., from a Decision of the Teton County Board of Equalization, 1994 WL 17966 (Wyo. State Board of Equalization). To qualify for an agriculture assessment the taxpayer must show:
1) The property has a current agricultural use;
2) The property had an agricultural use for the prior two years;
3) The taxpayer must obtain a monetary profit from the agricultural use; and
4) The agricultural use must be permitted by the zoning authority.
23. The date of assessment is January 1 of each year. Wyo. Stat. §39-13-103(b)(i)(A).
24. The use of the property as of the date of assessment is what determines the classification for assessment. On January 1, 2002, the land was not being used for agricultural purposes. It was not being used for the purpose of obtaining a profit to the land owner. The County Board was correct in finding:
The Protestants produced no evidence of any current use of the land for agriculture. The neighbor’s cows grazing their land without permission is not agriculture use. There was no expectation of a profit from such use.
[County Board Order, Paragraph 27; Bannister County Board Record, p. 83; Davis County Board Record, p. 72.]
25. There is no showing in the record that Petitioners used the land for agricultural purposes. We agree with the County Board that the evidence in the record does not support agriculture use.
26. If Petitioners fail to introduce evidence of prior and present agriculture use, it cannot be classified as agricultural. In the Matter of the Appeal of Janine Perrignon from a Decision of the Lincoln County Board of Equalization, 1998 WL 918628 (Wyo. State Board of Equalization).
27. The County Assessor is required by statute to annually assess each property within her jurisdiction. Each tax year, the conditions and use of the property on the date of assessment govern the value of the property. Wyo. Stat. § 39-13-103. Clearly, the Petitioners failed to demonstrate the land meets the current definition of agriculture land in effect for the 2002 valuation.
28. The classification of the land may change because of the activities Petitioners have undertaken to farm and graze the land but on the date of assessment these activities had not occurred and the County Board rightly denied an agriculture classification.
29. The Department of Revenue Rule, Chapter 10, Section 3(a)(ii), does not require a return of capital be realized, only that the profit be viewed from Petitioners’ standpoint and the profit be measured considering the productive capability of the property. The record is devoid of evidence of monetary profit on the assessment date as required by statute.
30. The County Board decisions affirming the Assessor’s value and classification of Petitioners’s property was supported by substantial evidence, in accordance with procedures required by law, and was neither arbitrary, capricious nor inconsistent with law.
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IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED the Crook County Board of Equalization Amended Order Denying Protest for Agricultural Value affirming the 2002 classifications of the land of Dave and Mary Bannister and the Amended Order Denying Protest for Agricultural Value affirming the 2002 classifications of the land of Arnola M. Davis as non-agricultural as assigned by the Crook County Assessor are hereby affirmed and the land classifications are hereby 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 19th day of February, 2003.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman
Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman
Wendy Soto, Executive Secretary