A DECISION OF THE FREMONT COUNTY        )         Docket No. 2003-111

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2003                  )

PROPERTY VALUATION (Britt Property)          )









Terrance R. Martin, Deputy County Attorney for the Petitioner, Fremont County Assessor Eileen Oakley,(Assessor).


Timothy J. and Janet R. Britt, (Taxpayers) not appearing before the State Board.





This is an appeal from a decision by the Fremont County Board of Equalization (County Board). The State Board of Equalization (State Board), comprised of Roberta A. Coates, Chairman, Alan B. Minier, Vice-Chairman and Thomas R. Satterfield, Board Member, considered the County Board hearing record, County Board decision and the Assessor’s brief filed pursuant to a Briefing Order (Locally Assessed Property) dated November 7, 2003. The Assessor appealed the decision the County Board made on September 4, 2003 altering the Assessor’s 2002 valuation of the residential property of Timothy J. and Janet R. Britt. The property is located on a United States Forest Service lease in the Shoshone National Forest, Pinnacle Height Subdivision, Lot 4, Fremont County, Wyoming.





The County Board conducted a hearing on July 14, 2003 with Hearing Officer, Teresa M. McKee presiding. The Taxpayer, Timothy Britt, the Assessor, Eileen Oakley, and the Deputy Assessor, Tara Berg, testified at the County Board Hearing. Supporting documents were admitted into the record.


The County Board concluded in its decision that the Taxpayers’, through Mr. Britt’s testimony, had presented sufficient, credible evidence to overcome the presumption that the Assessor’s valuation was valid. The Board found “generally in favor of the taxpayers” and ordered that the Taxpayers be given unspecified relief consistent with the County Board’s decision. [Record, Findings of Fact, Decision and Order, p. 79].





The State Board of Equalization is required to “hear appeals from county boards of equalization.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-11-102.1(c). A timely appeal from the County Board decision was filed with the State Board. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, §2.





When the State Board hears appeals from a county board, it acts as an intermediate level of appellate review. Laramie County Board of Equalization v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 915 P.2d 1184, 1188 (Wyo. 1996); Union Pacific Railroad Company v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 802 P.2d 856, 859 (Wyo. 1990). In its appellate capacity, the State Board treats a county board as the finder of fact. Id. In contrast, the State Board acts as the finder of fact when it hears contested cases on appeal from final decisions of the Wyoming Department of Revenue. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c). This sharp distinction in roles is reflected in the State Board Rules governing the two different types of proceedings. Compare Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 2 and Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3. Statutory language first adopted in 1995, when the Board of Equalization and the Department of Revenue were reorganized into separate entities, does not express the distinction between the State Board’s appellate and de novo capacities with the same clarity as our long-standing Rules. 1995 Wyo. Sess. Laws, Chapter 209, Section 1, Wyo. Stat. §39-1-304(a).


By rule, the State Board’s standards for review of a county board’s decision are nearly identical to the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act standards which a district court must apply to hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §16-3-114(c)(ii). However, unlike a district court, the Board will not rule on claims that a county board has acted “[c]ontrary to constitutional right, power, privilege or immunity.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. §16-1-114(c)(ii)(B). The State Board’s review is limited to a determination of whether a county board action is:


(a) Arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law;


(b) In excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limitations or lacking statutory right;


(c) Without observance of procedure required by law; or


(d) Unsupported by substantial evidence.


Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, §9.


The Supreme Court in Laramie County Board of Equalization v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 915 P.2d 1184, 1189 (Wyo. 1996) affirmed the State Board’s standard of review.


We examine the entire record to determine if there is substantial evidence to support an agency’s [county board’s] findings. If the agency’s [county board’s] decision is supported by substantial evidence, we cannot properly substitute our judgment for that of the agency [county board], and must uphold the findings on appeal. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept in support of the conclusions of the agency. It is more than a scintilla of evidence.





The Assessor raises two issues with the County Board’s decision.


She asserts the County Board of Equalization’s findings; (1) were unsupported by substantial evidence; and (2) arbitrarily and capriciously determined the property’s market value for 2003 property tax purposes. [Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal].





1.       The disputed property owned by the Taxpayers was purchased in 1995 for $80,000. The 690 square foot cabin was built in 1944. It has an 80 square foot porch on the front and a 184 square foot enclosed porch on the south side. The cabin is on a United States Forest Service lease in the Shoshone National Forest.


2.       On April 23, 2003, the Assessor, issued a tax assessment schedule to the Taxpayers, for the cabin, located at 3 E. Pinnacle Lane west of Dubois, Wyoming. The Assessor estimated the market value of the building at $87,200.00. No value was assigned to the federal land or the lease on which the building is situated. [Record, p. 5].


3.       On May 23, 2003, the Taxpayers filed a Statement to Contest Property Tax Assessment. They were given a hearing before the Fremont County Board of Equalization on July 14, 2003. [Record, p. 7].


4.       During the County Board hearing, the Taxpayers presented an oral and written statement concerning the cabin and the terms of the lease from the United States Forest Service. The Taxpayers argued that a substantially large part of the purchase price of the property, and sales price if they should sell it, is for the right to the lease, not for the structure. [Record, Exhibit 5, p. 27].


5.       The Taxpayers presented the Board with a construction estimate for the replacement of the Britt cabin from Oard Construction of Dubois, Wyoming. This estimate for a 650 square foot structure was $65,000. The contractor did not testify. The contractor’s estimate did not include any porches and was smaller than the existing cabin. [Record, Exhibit 4, p. 26].


6.       In the written comments presented to the County Board, Mr. Britt testified that he thought the best comparable sale was the property to the north of his cabin. The cabin to the north originally sold for $87,000 in 1995 and had severely deteriorated. The cabin to the north had been part of a personal bankruptcy after 1995. The lien holder had sold the cabin after receiving it from the bankruptcy estate for $50,000. [Record, Exhibit 5, p. 27]. The cabin to the north is currently assessed at $65,000. Ms. Berg, the Deputy County Assessor, did not consider the property to the north as a comparable because it was not in the same condition as the Britt cabin or the other properties being used for comparables. [Record, Tape Recording of Hearing].


7.       The Assessor’s market value in the 2003 assessment schedule for the Taxpayers’ building was $87,200. Ms. Berg, the Deputy County Assessor, presented to the Board a list of three comparable cabin sales in the area and explained how each was used in the assessment process. Ms. Berg also explained how these sales, which are all located on federal leases, were entered into the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal system (CAMA). [Record, Exhibit I, pp. 75-77]. 



Sale Date

Sale Price

CAMA Value

Square Feet

(Britt) @ 3 East Pinnacle Lane





No. 1 @ 48 W. Pinnacle Lane





No. 2 @ 39 Breccia Drive





No. 3 @ 35 Breccia Drive










8.       The Wyoming Constitution, Article 15, §11 requires all property “be uniformly assessed for taxation, and the legislature shall prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation of taxation of all property, real and personal.”


Early on, Justice Blume recognized a truth inherent in the area of property valuation: ‘There is no such thing as absolute value. A stone cannot be other than a stone, but one man may give a different valuation to a piece of land than another.’ Bunten v. Rock Springs Grazing Ass’n, 29 Wyo. 461, 475, 215 P. 244, 248 (1923). Accordingly, this court has consistently interpreted Wyo. Const. Art. 15, §11 to require ‘only a rational method [of appraisal], equally applied to all property which results in essential fairness.’


Basin Electric Power Coop. v. Dept. of Revenue, 970 P.2d 841, 857 (Wyo.1998) quoting: Holly Sugar Corp. v. State Board of Equalization, 839 P.2d 959, 964 (Wyo.1992).


9.       Broken into its component parts, the constitutional standard requires: (1) a rational method; (2) equally applied to all property; and (3) essential fairness. It is the burden of one challenging an assessment to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that at least one of these elements has not been fulfilled. Basin Electric Power Coop., 970 P.2d at 852.


10.     All property must be valued annually at fair market value. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §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. Ann. §39-13-103(b)(i)(A).


11.      Fair market value is defined as:


           The 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. Ann. §39-11-101(a)(vi).


12.     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. Ann. §39-13-103(b)(ii), and required assessors to “[f]aithfully and diligently follow and apply” those rules for the appraisal and assessment of all taxable property. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §18-3-204(a)(ix).


13.     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 earning approach, and the CAMA system. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9, §6 (a), (b), (c), and (d).


14.     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 & Co. 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). The assessor’s determination of value must lead to fair value and the burden is on the taxpayer to establish an overvaluation. Hillard v. Big Horn Coal Co., 549 P.2d 294 (Wyo. 1976).


15.     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 Wyoming Supreme 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.


16.     Each of the issues raised by the Assessor turns on the question of whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record that reasonably supports the County Board decision. 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); Holly Sugar Corp. v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 839 P.2d 959 (Wyo. 1992); 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. The Wyoming Supreme Court has stated, “‘[s]ubstantial’ 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).


17.     “[T]he value of personal property for the purpose of taxation should be estimated according to the fair actual cash market value or the price that the property would sell for in the usual course of business” and the assessor “should take into consideration all factors which relate to value.” J. Ray McDermott & Co. V. Hudson, 370 P.2d 364, 368 (Wyo. 1962).




A.       The County Board of Equalization’s findings were unsupported by substantial evidence.


18.     The County Board “generally agreed” with the Taxpayers that the property was being assessed in part for the value of the lease. [Record, Findings Of Facts, Decision and Order, p. 79, ¶8]. The Assessor testified that the value of the lease was not being taxed. Only the improvements on the government lease were being taxed. The improvements on government leases are not exempt from taxation under Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-11-105 (a)(i)(A).


19.     The record shows that the Assessor complied with all requirements of the state law in determining the value for the Taxpayers’ property by using the CAMA system pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-11-102, relying on the sales comparison approach to value the property as prescribed in Chapter 9 of the Rules and Regulations promulgated by the Wyoming Department of Revenue. The Taxpayers presented no evidence that the Assessor had incorrectly applied CAMA or that the sales used for comparison approach were not correct.


20.     The County Board Findings of Fact states that the Taxpayers did not believe the comparable sales were realistic and that the cabin adjacent to his had sold for $50,000. [Record, Findings of Fact, Decision and Order, p. 78, ¶1, 2]. The County Board should not have accepted the purchase of the property from a bankruptcy sale since it was not an arms-length-sale and did not meet the definition of fair market value. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-11-101(a)(vi).


B.       The County Board findings arbitrarily and capriciously determined the property’s market value for 2003 property tax purposes.


21.     The Oard Construction estimate to build a replacement cabin is not substantial evidence to overcome the presumption in favor of the Assessor. The estimate is for a building that is smaller than the structure that would be replaced. The estimate did not include the replacement of the existing porches. There is no evidence that all the costs needed to do a cost method estimate are included. Those other costs might include costs for architecture and engineering fees, building permits, legal expenses, insurance, interest and fees on the construction loans, taxes incurred during construction, advertising and sales expenses, and reasonable overhead and profit. Therefore, the County Board would be arbitrary and capricious to accept the construction cost estimate as a value to supplant the value derived by the Assessor using the CAMA system.


22.     The County Board incorrectly discounted comparable sales, which the Assessor offered in support of her valuation. The sales relied upon by the Assessor were of properties comparable in size and location to the Taxpayers’ property. All the comparable sales were also located on United States Forest Service leases. The Assessor met her burden of explaining the value determined for the Taxpayers’ property.


23.     The evidence of the sale of the cabin to the north of the Taxpayers’ cabin is not sufficient to overcome the presumption of the correctness of the Assessor’s value. A purchase from a bankruptcy estate is not an open market, fair market sale. A purchase from a bankruptcy estate is an invalid sale because the seller is under compulsion to sell the property and the buyer has additional legal expenses and time when purchasing from a bankruptcy estate. Therefore, the evidence of the bankruptcy sale of the cabin to the north should not have been considered as evidence to overcome the Assessor’s value. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §30-11-101 (a)(iv).


24.     The Wyoming Supreme Court has rejected the actual sales price of property in favor of the value established by CAMA system because of the uniformity derived from the use of the CAMA system and has recognized the validity of the system. Gray v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 896 P.2d 1347 (Wyo. 1995).


25.     There are several discrepancies between the County Board’s Findings of Fact and the tape recording of the hearing: Item 3 the size of the porch on the south side of the cabin is 8 x 23 rather than 10 x 23. There is a smaller porch on the front of the cabin. The cabin has both water and electricity.


26.     Based on the record before us, we conclude there is not substantial evidence to reject the decision of the Assessor. We conclude the Assessor supported the argument in favor of her valuation.


27.     The decision of the County Board ordering the Assessor to adjust the valuation of the Taxpayers’ property was not supported by substantial evidence, it was not in accordance with procedures required by law, and was arbitrary, capricious and inconsistent with the law.









          IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Fremont County Board of Equalization Order overturning the Assessor’s valuation of the Taxpayers’ property, shall be and the same is reversed, and the Assessor’s valuation of $87,200.00 shall be reinstated.


Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §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 at the appropriate district court by filing a petition for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.


          Dated this 6th day of April, 2004



                                                                           STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION





                                                                           Roberta A. Coates, Chairman





                                                                           Alan B. Minier, Vice-Chairman





     Thomas R. Satterfield, Member




Wendy. J. Soto, Executive Secretary