BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
BRENT AND GERANNE RASMUSSEN )
FROM A DECISION OF THE BIG HORN ) Docket No. 2002-93
COUNTY BOARD OF EQUALIZATION )
2002 PROPERTY VALUATION )
FINDINGS OF FACT
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
DECISION AND ORDER
Brent and Geranne Rasmussen, pro se.
Jackie Payne, Big Horn County Assessor, pro se.
This matter was considered by the State Board of Equalization (State Board), Roberta A. Coates, Chairman, and Alan B. Minier, 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 corrected 2002 valuation by the Big Horn County Assessor (Assessor) of real property and improvements owned by Brent and Geranne Rasmussen (Petitioners), located at 175 South 3rd East, Cowley, Big Horn County, Wyoming. Petitioners contend that their property is overvalued based a several indicators of value that they presented to the County Board.
The issue before the State Board is:
Was the County Board decision affirming the Assessor’s corrected 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 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 appealed to the County Board the Assessor’s 2002 taxable valuation of $214,095 of the real property and improvements located at 175 South 3rd East, Cowley, Big Horn County, Wyoming. The Petitioners did not contest the value of the land, but did contest the valuation of their recently completed home, and also contested the Assessor’s decision to include the value of a 34' by 34' shed that was scheduled to be destroyed on or before July 31, 2002.
In support of their claim with respect to the principal building on the property, the Petitioners asserted that the contested assessed value “does not correspond with comparable property assessments, appraisal reports, or Bank and Insurance valuations of [the] subject property.” [County Board Record, p. 6]. The Petitioners produced and discussed pertinent documents during their testimony at the County Board hearing. They concluded that the appropriate value for all buildings should be $181,325.55.
For her part, the Assessor replied to the Petitioners’ evidence, and testified that Petitioners’ property was valued using the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system.
On appeal, Petitioners state that they rely on the standards of review found in Chapter 3, Sections 8 and 9 of the State Board’s Rules of Practice and Procedure for Appeals Before the State Board of Equalization From a County Board of Equalization (“the Rules”).
By letter of January 21, 2003, Petitioners said that, in addition to the evidence presented to the County Board, they wished to state additional criticisms of CAMA as used by the Big Horn County Assessor, including criticism of the appraisal neighborhoods used by the Assessor and the comparables used by the Assessor. However, Petitioners did not apply for leave to present additional evidence, as provided in Section 8 of the Rules.
A review of the record demonstrates that the County Board’s order should be affirmed.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Petitioners own real property and improvements located at 175 South 3rd East, Cowley, Big Horn County, Wyoming. [County Board Record, pp. 6, 62-63].
2. After receiving notice that their assessment for 2002 would be $255,000, Petitioners contacted the Assessor, and subsequently received an corrected assessment in the total amount of $214,095. [County Board Recording of Hearing; County Board Record, pp. 21-22, 27]. This corrected assessment schedule stated that the current year market value of Petitioners’ land was $13,495, and the current year market value of Petitioners’ buildings was $200,600. [Id.]
3. Petitioners were still dissatisfied with the assessment and on April 30, 2002, filed a timely request for a hearing before the County Board. [County Board Record, pp. 5-9]. The County Board held a hearing on June 21, 2002. [County Board Record, p. 3].
4. The substance of Petitioners’ evidence is summarized on two pages submitted to the County Board. [County Board Record, p. 21-22]. Petitioners began their protest by preparing their own analysis of three comparable properties identified by the Assessor and three properties the Petitioners believed to be “closer to the subject property’s square footage, lot size, and location.” The Petitioners first calculated that the “average cost per square foot” of the Assessor’s comparable properties was $54.95. They then calculated that the “average cost per square foot” for the second set of properties was $60.98. Finally, they calculated that the average cost per square foot of their own property (using the Assessor’s initial valuation of $255,000) was $81.65. From this they concluded that their property was being charged $23.68 per square foot more than the average value of the six other properties. [Id., p. 21]. The record does not include a revised calculation based on the corrected assessment schedule value of $214,095 (assuming 3126 square feet for Petitioners’ home, that value would be $68.49).
5. The Petitioners next rely on an appraisal from Roady’s Appraisal Service, dated July 19, 2000, estimating the market value of the home at $165,000. [County Board Recording of Hearing; County Board Record, pp. 22, 11-15]. This appraisal was prepared before the Petitioners’ home was completed. [Id.]
6. The Petitioners also rely on a Comparative Market Analysis by Sarah Johnson, Broker/Owner of Johnson Home and Land in Lovell, Wyoming, who considered four recent home sales in Lovell and Cowley to derive an average sold price per square foot of $74.93. [County Board Record, pp. 16-19]. The Petitioners calculate that the Johnson analysis supports a valuation of $168,444 for their property. [County Board Record, pp. 22, 25-26]. This calculation is based on adjustments to sold price (such as “site/acreage/landscaping” deduction of $19,500 in one instance) to reach an average adjusted sold price for the four properties. [County Board Record, pp. 22, 25]. This method yields distinctly different results than the Petitioners’ average cost per square foot approach (Paragraph 4, supra.). Multiplying Johnson’s average sold price per square foot by the 3129 square feet of Petitioner’s home yields a value of $234,455.97.
7. Petitioners further rely on a construction proposal for their home from Miller Masonry and Construction, dated July 13, 2000. [County Board Record, p. 24]. The Miller proposal for the house alone is $143,500; with a garage and sidewalk, $161,140; with the contractor furnishing utility hook ups and the building lot, $179,140. [Id.] Like the Roady appraisal, this construction proposal was prepared before completion of the home.
8. The Petitioners contend that a 34' by 34' shed on the property was to be removed in the summer of 2002, and hence should not be included in the market value of the property. [County Board Record, p. 22]. However, there appears to no dispute that the shed was in place on January 1, 2002. [County Board Recording of Hearing].
9. Finally, Petitioners refer to an insurance policy on their home, in an amount sufficient to satisfy their mortgage holder that the property has been safely insured. Petitioners read the policy as providing total coverage in the amount of $204,000. [County Board Record, p. 22, 23]. As they read the policy summary, “$20,400 [of the total coverage] is allowed for personal property loss,” leading the Petitioners to conclude that the policy amount for the house and improvements is $183,600. [Id.] There was no evidence from the issuer of the policy about the proper interpretation of the policy, or how the values reflected in the policy were reached. [County Board Recording of Hearing].
10. To reach their final conclusion, Petitioners take the average cost per square foot of the six properties identified as comparables ($57.97), (Paragraph 4, supra.) and multiply by 3129 square feet. The mathematical product of $57.97 and 3129 is $181,388.13. Thereafter, in some manner not clearly stated in the record, they account for the other values referenced above, all to reach a value of $181,325.55. [County Board Record, p. 22].
11. In response to the Petitioners’ presentation to the County Board, the Assessor provided evidence that she used the CAMA system to determine the fair market value of Petitioners’ property. [County Board Recording of Hearing; County Board Record, p. 59-69]. She addressed her reasons for grading the house as B minus, rather than the average value of C, including such considerations as the width of the hallways in Petitioners’ home. She contrasted the CAMA value of $214,095 with the value of $279,238 calculated by using the State’s hand-costed appraisal method. [County Board Recording of Hearing; County Board Record, p. 63-64]
12. The Assessor also responded to many details of the Petitioners’ contentions. [County Board Recording of Hearing]. She explained that mass appraisals do not generally rely on averages, but instead compare value points. She addressed the significance of the age of the various properties, and noted that the Petitioners’ brand new home did not get any effect of depreciation. She noted and discussed the significance of the fact that the Roady appraisal was prepared before the Petitioners’ home was completed, and noted that in 2000 the Roady appraisal acknowledged an active market with increasing prices. [Id., p. 13]. She noted that one of the sales included in the Johnson appraisal, the Peter Trump property in Cowley, resulted in a sold price of $101 per square foot; this value was substantially in excess of the Petitioners’ calculations for their own property. [Id., p. 18].
13. With regard to the shed, the Assessor explained that the principles governing mass appraisals for tax assessments, as opposed to individual appraisals such as the Johnson appraisal, require her to place a value on such improvements. [County Board Recording of Hearing]. She also explained that taxes affix as of January 1 of each year, so that if the shed is demolished as planned, the assessment will drop in the coming year. [Id.] Similarly, the Petitioners’ home had been assessed as a partially complete structure in the preceding year. [Id.; see County Board Record, p.27 for comparison of taxes in 2001].
14. With regard to the insurance policy, the Assessor said that she contacted the insurance company and was advised that the $20,400 of coverage was for other buildings, and that the cumulative coverage for all buildings on the property was $224,400. [Id., p. 23]. The Assessor further testified that she was advised that the insurance company understood the size of the Petitioners’ home to be 2472 square feet, i.e., considerably less than the actual square footage. [County Board Recording of Hearing]. Petitioners indicated that they had been given contrary information from the insurance company. [County Board Recording of Hearing].
15. The Assessor provided a lengthy written statement of her training, including specific training on CAMA. [County Board Record, p. 53-58].
16. The County Board denied the Petitioners’ protest and affirmed the Assessor’s corrected valuation of Petitioners’ property. The County Board issued its decision on August 5, 2002, and Petitioners appealed to the State Board. [County Board Record, pp. 84-91; State Board Record, Notice of Appeal].
17. On appeal, Petitioners contend that the County Board erred in affirming the Assessor’s valuation, under the standards found in Section 9 of the Rules. [State Board Record, Notice of Appeal]. A supplemental statement of contentions provided in a letter of January 23, 2003, was not supported by additional evidence. [Id.]
18. Any Discussion above, or Conclusion of Law below, that includes a finding of fact may also be considered a Finding of Fact and, therefore, is incorporated herein by this reference.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
19. Petitioners’ Notice of Appeal from the County Board’s decision was timely filed and the State Board has jurisdiction to determine this matter. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 2.
20. The Board’s inquiry is limited to whether the County Board’s decision affirming the Assessor’s corrected 2002 valuation of Petitioners’ 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.
21. The Petitioners’ contentions concerning their assessment raise the question of whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record reasonably supporting the conclusions reached by the County Board.
22. All taxable property must be valued annually at fair market value. Wyo. Stat. §39-13-103(b)(ii). Further, all taxable property must be valued and assessed for taxation in the name of the owner of the property on January 1. Wyo. Stat. §39-1-103(b)(i)(A). 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).
23. 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).
24. 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).
25. The Assessor utilized the CAMA system to value Petitioners’ property. Petitioners demonstrated no error or inaccuracy in the Assessor’s use of the CAMA system.
26. 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, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9, § 6(b), (d).
27. 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.
28. In determining whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record, the State Board will not substitute its 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, 1188-1189 (Wyo.1996); Amax Coal v. State Board 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 a term of art, best described as relevant evidence that a reasonable mind can accept as adequate to support an agency’s conclusion.” Sidwell v. State Worker’s Compensation Div., 977 P.2d 60, 63 (Wyo. 1999).
29. Although Petitioners provided the County Board with information intended to support a valuation of $181,325.55, this information was not sufficient to overcome the Assessor’s presumptively accurate valuation of $214,095.00 using the CAMA System. To address each of the Petitioners’ main points: (1) The calculation of average market value per square foot does not address the results of applying CAMA, and in this instance, Petitioners presented a value for their property that incorporated the Assessor’s original valuation, rather than the corrected valuation; (2) the Roady appraisal predated construction, and did not show value in 2002; (3) the Johnson appraisal is contradicted by the Petitioners’ average square foot calculations; (4) the shed should be included in the 2002 value; (5) the conflicting evidence concerning the value of insurance coverage, and the absence of evidence concerning how that value was reached, means that the insurance information is of doubtful utility. Petitioners thus failed to carry their burden of demonstrating any error in the Assessor’s valuation of the Petitioners’ property.
30. The County Board decision affirming the Assessor’s corrected 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.
31. In this appeal, the review by the State Board must be confined to the record as supplemented, oral argument and such briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law as may be filed. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 9. Since the Petitioners made no effort to supplement the record in support of the contentions set forth in their letter of January 23, 2003, the State Board cannot address the additional claims or contentions found in that letter.
THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED:
The Big Horn County Board of Equalization Order of August 5, 2002, denying the Petitioners’ protest and affirming the corrected 2002 assessment of Petitioners’ property located in Cowley, 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 11th day of March, 2003.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Roberta A. Coates, Chairman
Alan B. Minier, Vice-Chairman
Wendy Soto, Executive Secretary