BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
JOSEPH AND REBEKAH McCUEN )
FROM A DECISION OF THE BIG HORN ) Docket No. 2002-85
COUNTY BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2002 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
FINDINGS OF FACT
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
DECISION AND ORDER
Joseph and Rebekah McCuen, pro se.
Jackie Payne, Big Horn County Assessor, pro se.
This matter was considered by the State Board of Equalization (State Board), Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman, and Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman, on written information pursuant to a Briefing Order (Locally Assessed Property) dated October 17, 2002. The appeal arises from a decision of the Big Horn County Board of Equalization (County Board) affirming the amended 2002 valuation by the Big Horn County Assessor (Assessor) of real property and improvements owned by Joseph and Rebekah McCuen (Petitioners) located at 11 Benchview Estates, Big Horn County, Wyoming. On appeal, Petitioners contend the County Board decision affirming the Assessor’s valuation is in error. In reviewing Petitioners’ appeal, the State Board is limited to a determination of whether or not the County Board decision was:
Arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law; in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limitations or lacking statutory right; without observance of procedure required by law; or unsupported by substantial evidence.
Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 9.
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 decision must be filed with the State Board within thirty (30) days from entry of the decision. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 2.
Petitioners filed an appeal with the County Board challenging the Assessor’s 2002 amended taxable valuation of $208,790 of their real property and improvements located at 11 Benchview Estates, Big Horn County, Wyoming.
On appeal Petitioners contend the evidence they presented to the County Board should have persuaded the County Board ion their favor; in effect they assert the County Board decision was arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion or not supported by substantial evidence. They also express concerns over the language of the County Board decision indicating they had 15 days to appeal rather than the 30 days provided by the State Board’s rules.
In response, the Assessor relies on the County Board record to establish that Petitioners’ property was properly valued using the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system.
We find the County Board properly affirmed the Assessor’s valuation of Petitioners’ property. Further, we find Petitioners procedural issue does not warrant reversal of the County Board decision.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. The County Board decision was dated August 5, 2002. [County Board Record, pp. 3-4]. Petitioners’ letter appealing the County Board decision to the State Board was filed August 16, 2002, within thirty days of both the date of and the mailing of the County Board decision. [State Board File].
2. Petitioners filed an opening brief with the State Board on November 12, 2002. A letter was filed by the Assessor on November 28, 2002, indicating the Assessor wished to rely on the evidence and exhibits presented to the County Board. Petitioners did not file a reply brief. [State Board File].
3. Petitioners own real property and improvements located at Lot 11, Benchview Estate Subdivision, Big Horn County, Wyoming. [County Board Record, p. 10].
4. The construction of Petitioners’ property was completed in December 2001. The Assessor completed an inspection of Petitioners’ property and listed the property for assessment. [County Board Tape Recording]. After making adjustments, the real property and improvements were assessed at $208,790. [County Board Record, p. 10; County Board Tape Recording].
5. At the County Board hearing, Petitioners testified it cost $124,050 to build their home. [County Board Tape Recording]. A copy of the final page of the construction contract for their home was presented at the County Board hearing showing the $124,050 contract price. [County Board Record, p. 15]. In addition to the contract, Petitioners performed some of the construction work themselves. A portion of Petitioners’ work is reflected in the reduction in the contract price shown on the contract. [County Board Tape Recording].
6. At the hearing, Petitioners introduced a “Schedule of Real Estate Owned” showing a market value of $140,000 for their home and testified the amount reflected the appraisal done for purposes of obtaining their initial financing. [County Board Record, p. 17; County Board Tape Recording]. They indicated the $140,000 was still okay with the bank when they refinanced the loan the next year. [County Board Tape Recording].
7. Petitioners also presented the declaration page for their home owners insurance policy showing the dwelling insured for $145,700 and the dwelling extension insured for $14,570. [County Board Record, p. 20].
8. In addition, Petitioners discussed a neighbor’s valuation, the cost of new construction in the area and the economic conditions in Lovell to support their contention that their property was overvalued. [County Board Tape Recording].
9. Finally, Petitioners provided an advertisement showing a house similar to theirs being offered for sale in Billings, Montana for $213,000. [County Board Record, p. 23; County Board Tape Recording].
10. The Assessor provided evidence that she used the CAMA system to determine the fair market value of Petitioner’s property. [County Board Record, p. 12, 14; County Board Tape Recording].
11 The County Board affirmed the Assessor’s amended valuation of Petitioners property. [County Board Record, pp. 3-4].
12. 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
13. Petitioners notice of appeal from the County Board’s decision was filed timely and the State Board has jurisdiction to determine this matter. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 2.
14. The State Board’s inquiry is limited to whether the County Board’s decision affirming the Assessor’s amended 2002 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.
15. Petitioners’ contentions concerning their 2002 assessment raise the question of whether or not there the County Board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious of an abuse of discretion or unsupported by substantial evidence.
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 of the Wyoming Constitution requires that all property “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." The legislature, in turn, has required the Department of Revenue (Department) to “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).
21. The Department has promulgated rules prescribing the methods for valuing property. The acceptable methods include a sales comparison approach, a cost approach, an income or capitalized earnings approach, and the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Ch. 9, § 6 (a), (b), (c), (d).
22. An assessor’s valuation is presumed valid, accurate and correct. This presumption 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 overcome the presumption. J. Ray McDermott & Company v. Hudson, 370 P.2d 364, 370 (Wyo. 1962). The presumption is especially valid where 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), (d).
23. 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.
24. In this case, the Assessor utilized the CAMA system to value Petitioner’s property. Petitioner demonstrated no error or inaccuracy in the Assessor’s use of the CAMA system. Petitioner’s testimony that the taxable value of their house was higher than the taxable value of a neighbor’s smaller (but nicer) house does not show any inaccuracy or error in the Assessor’s use of the CAMA system. Therefore, the Assessor’s valuation is presumed valid, accurate and correct.
25. Petitioners’ evidence concerning the contract for construction of their house is not sufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of the Assessor’s valuation. The complete contract was not provided, leaving a question concerning the scope of the work included in the contract. No fair market value was provided for the “sweat equity” invested in the house by Petitioners, including the insulation and work on the daycare portion of the house. [County Board Hearing Tape].
26. Petitioners’ evidence that an appraisal of their property had been completed for purposes of financing their home is not sufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of the Assessor’s valuation. The appraisal was not presented to the County Board. Without the actual appraisal showing its timeliness, the accuracy of its assumptions and the methodologies employed to establish the value, an appraisal opinion is not sufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of the Assessor’s valuation. See: In the Matter of the Appeal of Fred Reynolds, 2002 WL 869923 (Wyo. State Bd. Of Equalization).
27. Petitioners’ evidence of their property’s value for insurance purposes is not sufficient to overcome the presumption of in favor of the Assessor’s valuation. There is no indication in the record as to how the replacement cost was determined or whether or not it reflected a fair market value for all of Petitioners’ real property and improvements.
28. The balance of Petitioners’ testimony and evidence concerned the economic conditions in Lovell, and the differences in construction costs and market conditions in other parts of northwest Wyoming and Montana. Other than Petitioners’ opinion that these factors should have lowered their assessed valuation, there was no evidence that these factors were not adequately accounted for in the assessed value established by the Assessor using the CAMA system.
29. Petitioners also raise one procedural error, that the County Board’s order incorrectly states the time they had to file an appeal with the State Board. In considering the procedural error, we consider the gravity of the error, not its mere occurrence. The Petitioners must show how the error was prejudicial and affected their substantial rights. Grams v. Environmental Quality Council, 730 P.2d 784, 787 (Wyo. 1986). The County Board’s order was incorrect. The State Board’s rules provide that an appeal from a County Baord decision must be field within thirty days, not 15 as reflected in the County Board decision. Rules, State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 2(a). However, Petitioners have not shown how they were prejudiced by the error. While they may have filed their appeal earlier than required by our rules, they were afforded ample opportunity to develop their arguments and present them in their opening brief and reply brief allowed by the State Board.
30. The County Board decision affirming the Assessor’s amended value of Petitioners’ 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 decision of the Big Horn County Board of Equalization affirming the Assessor’s 2002 amended valuation of Petitioners’ property located at 11 Benchview Estate Subdivision, Big Horn County, Wyoming, 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 28th day of February, 2003.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman
Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary