BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
EDWARD W. SCHEER,
TRUSTEE FROM )
A DECISION OF THE
EQUALIZATION - 2003 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
DECISION AND ORDER
Edward W. Scheer,
pro se, (Petitioner)
James L. Radda,
Deputy County Attorney, for Suzanne Olmstead, Teton County Assessor (Assessor).
This is an appeal
from a decision by the Teton 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, having considered the County Board
hearing record, County Board decision and briefs filed pursuant to a Briefing Order
(Locally Assessed Property) dated October 16, 2003. The Petitioner appealed the decision
the County Board issued on August 4, 2003.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE
The County Board
conducted a hearing on July 21, 2003. The Petitioner, Edward W. Scheer and the Assessor,
Susanne Olmstead, testified at the County Board Hearing. Supporting documents were
admitted into the record.
The County Board
concluded in its decision that the Petitioner had not presented sufficient, credible
evidence to overcome the presumption that the Assessor’s valuation was valid. The County
Board upheld the Assessor’s assessment of the property.
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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. Ann. §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 State 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:
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;
observance of procedure required by law; or
(d) Unsupported by
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 Wyo. P. 1189 (1996), agreed that the State Board’s role is the following:
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 judgement 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.
initially identified three issues with the County Board’s decision.
Assessor’s comparable properties were not all in the neighborhood.
decision citations used in the Conclusion Of Law were not current.
Board did not take into consideration the financial hardships to the Petitioner caused by
his retirement, poor health and the effect of increasing market values.
We have organized
our review of the County Board decision around these issues.
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE
disputed property is owned by Mr. Edward W. Scheer, Petitioner. Petitioner purchased the
10 acres of land in 1968 for $35,000. The 2,039 square foot house was built in 1970. It
has a small shed attached to the carport and there is a small cabin on the property. The
shed, carport and cabin are not on foundations and were considered as personal property.
June 25, 2003, the County Assessor issued a tax assessment schedule to the Petitioner for
assessment of Lot 2 of Scheer Subdivision (550 Green Lane) Teton County, Wyoming. The
Assessor estimated the market value of the property at $738,674.00. The land was valued at
$613,200 and the buildings at $125,474. [Record, Assessment Schedule, p. 24].
May 22, 2003, the Petitioner filed an official appeal of the assessment. The hearing
before the Teton County Board of Equalization was set for July 21, 2003. [Record, p. 7]
the County Board hearing, the Assessor presented an appraisal prepared by Debbie LaJeuness
of Teton Appraisals. The fee appraisal was completed on June 26, 2003 and used six
comparable properties for the land values and six comparable properties for the building.
Three of these properties were within several miles of the Scheer property. We have used
these in the consideration of comparable land values.
Lot Size in Acres
Cost per Acre
* Appraised value
The River Hollow
property is slightly larger, has water frontage, slightly less appealing views and has
less privacy than the Scheer property.
property is west of the Scheer property and is a smaller lot. The property is in an older
well-established subdivision that has good appeal. The lot is smaller but has similar type
The Wilson Prairie
property is just north of the Scheer property. The lot is smaller and has a similar type
view of the Tetons but lacks water frontage and mature trees.
Appraisals, p. 12].
APPLICABLE LAW AND PETITIONER’S ISSUES
9. 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.’
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).
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.
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).
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 reasonably time.
Wyo. Stat. Ann.
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.
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).
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, rules 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 burden is on the Taxpayer to
establish any overvaluation.” Hillard v. Big Horn Coal Co., 549 p.2d 294 (Wyo. 1976).
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.
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; Holly Sugar Corp. v. Wyoming State Board of
Equalization, 839 P.2d 959 (Wyo. 1992); Sage Club, Inc. 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 support for
an agency’s conclusion. Sidwell v. State Workers’ Compensation Div., 977 P.2d
60, 63 (Wyo. 1999).
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 Assessor’s
comparable properties were not all in the neighborhood.
appraisal that the Assessor used had six comparable properties. Three of these properties
were within two miles of the Petitioner’s property. Comparable No. 1 is approximately 10
miles north, Comparable No. 3 is approximately 5 miles east and Comparable No. 5 is
approximately 8 miles south. We have only considered the three comparable properties that
are within two miles of the Petitioner’s property. The Assessor correctly applied the
properties for the comparison approach. The Petitioner failed to demonstrate that the
values were incorrect, that better comparables should have been used or that the location
of the other properties materially affected the comparables.
record shows that the Assessor complied with all requirements of the state law in
determining the value for the Petitioner’s property by using 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 Taxpayer presented no evidence that
the Assessor had incorrectly applied the sales used for comparison approach.
B. The decision
citations used in the Conclusion of Law were not Acceptable.
second contention is that “Conclusions of Law, B” of the County Board’s decision
lists cases that “. . . are old and . . . not pertinent to my plight.” No mention is
made concerning findings to the contrary. That section of the County Board decision
In a proceeding of
this nature, the burden of proof is on the party asserting an improper valuation. Weaver v. State Board of Equalization, 511
P.2d97(Wyo 1973); Scott Realty Company v. state
Board of Equalization, 395 P,2d 289 (Wyo 1973); Bunton v. Rock Springs Grazing Association, 215
P 2244 (Wyo 1923); Teton Valley Ranch v State
Board of Equalization, 735 P 2d 107 (Wyo 1987)
The cases cited by
the County Board are the precedent, or “. . . decided case[s] that furnish a basis for
determining later cases involving similar facts or issues.” Black’s Law Dictionary
1195 (7th ed. 1999). They reflect the ultimate burden of persuasion born by any
taxpayer challenging an assessor’s valuation decision. Following these precedents
further the evenhanded, predictable and consistent development of legal principles,
fosters reliance on administrative decisions, and contribute to the actual and perceived
integrity of the administrative process. Borns v Voss, 2003 WY 74 ¶26, 70 P.3d 262
(2003). Absent a showing that a change is necessary to vindicate plain, obvious
principles of law and remedy continued injustice, we conclude the precedent cited by the
County Board is correct.
C. The County
Board did not take into consideration the financial hardships caused by retirement, poor
health and increasing market values.
alleges that his health, his financial hardships and the effect of the increasing market
value, have on his finances should have encouraged the County Board to reduce his
valuation and thereby his property taxes. To reduce value because of circumstances of a
taxpayer is a policy determination. It is improper for the County Board to set tax policy.
[Record, Trans. pp.10-11]. Wyo. Stat. Ann.§ 39-13-102(d). There are various
programs available to the Petitioner for tax relief if he qualifies. The Assessor
patiently explained those programs to the Petitioner during the County Board hearing.
[Record, Trans. pp. 10-11].
County Board correctly supported the Assessor’s comparable sales, which were offered in
support of the valuation. The sales relied upon by the Assessor were of properties
comparable in size and location to the Petitioner’s property. The Assessor met her
burden of explaining the value determined for the Petitioner’s property. Gray v.
Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 896 P.2d 1347 (Wyo. 1995).
on the record before us, we conclude that substantial evidence was not presented at the
hearing to reject the decision of the Assessor. We likewise conclude the Assessor
supported the argument in favor of her valuation.
decision of the County Board affirming the Assessor’s valuation of the Petitioner’s
property was supported by substantial evidence, was in accordance with procedures required
by law, and was neither arbitrary, capricious nor inconsistent with the law.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the
Teton County Board of Equalization Order affirming the Assessor’s 2003 assessed
valuation of $738,674.00 of the Petitioner’s property, located at 550 Green Lane, Teton
County, Wyoming shall be and the same is affirmed.
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.
this 26th day of April, 2004
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
A. Coates, Chairman
B. Minier, Vice-Chairman
Thomas R. Satterfield
Wendy. J. Soto,