STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
STATE OF WYOMING
THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
WALES FROM A ) Docket
OF THE PLATTE COUNTY )
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2004 )
DECISION AND ORDER
Wales, Petitioner, (Petitioner) appearing pro-se.
Chaffin, Platte County Assessor, (Assessor) appearing pro-se.
This is an
appeal from a decision of the Platte County Board of Equalization (County Board). The
State Board of Equalization (State Board), comprised of Alan B. Minier, Chairman, Thomas
R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman and Thomas D. Roberts, Board Member, considered the hearing
record and decision of the County Board, Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal filed with the
State Board dated August 12, 2004, and the parties oral arguments heard on December 28,
2004. Neither party filed a brief as allowed by the State Board’s Briefing Order dated
September 24, 2004.
appealed a decision of the County Board affirming the Assessor’s valuation of his real
property in Platte County, Wyoming. Petitioner argues that the County Board’s decision
affirming the Assessor’s classification of a portion of Petitioners’ property as
irrigated crop land rather than dry crop land and the Assessor’s use of the Wyoming
Department of Revenue’s Agricultural Land Valuation Study in valuing Petitioner’s
agricultural land is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and unsupported by the
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE
Board conducted a hearing on July 19, 2004. A “Decision on Appeal” was entered by the
County Board on August 3, 2004. A notice of appeal of the County Board decision was filed
with the State Board on August 12, 2004.
Board 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 the 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 (Department). 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 State Board of Equalization and
the Department 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, §1; §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 the 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
Unsupported by substantial evidence.
Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, §9.
State Board Rules are patterned on the judicial review provision of the Wyoming
Administrative Procedure Act, we look to precedent under Wyo. Stat. Ann. §16-3-114(c) for
guidance. For example, we must apply this substantial evidence standard:
Our task is to
examine the entire record to determine if substantial evidence exists to support the
[County Board’s] findings. We will not substitute our judgment for that of the [County
Board] if [its] decision is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is
relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept in support of the agency’s
State ex rel. Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division, 934 P.2d 1269, 1272
Petitioner’s argument we discern that he has two complaints with respect to the County
portion of the property should be classified as non-irrigated agricultural property.
valuation of agricultural property set by the Department fails to account for the effect
agricultural land is valued and assessed on the objective value of what the land is
capable of producing under normal conditions. The value is not based on what the land is
actually producing but on what the soils, temperature, moisture and other factors would
allow. It is the responsibility of the Department to develop values which must be followed
by the assessor and County Board.
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE
Petitioner owns 160 acres of land located on 229 Olson Road, Wheatland, Wyoming. The legal
description is NE1/4 of Section 16, Township 23 North, Range 68 West of the 6th P.M..
[Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 35].
Petitioner appeared on his own behalf at the Platte County Board of Equalization hearing.
The Assessor appeared on behalf of herself. [Hearing Tape].
Assessor sent a Notice of Assessment to all Platte County landowners for the 2004 tax
year. [County Board Record, p. 32].
June 4, 2004, Petitioner filed a STATEMENT TO CONTEST PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT for his 2004
property tax. The two reasons for the protest were: 1) the assessment was incorrect
because the Assessor took an arbitrary and capricious stand regarding the classification
of a portion of the land in question as irrigated land without regard for the guidelines
set forth in the State of Wyoming 2003 Agricultural Land Valuation Study; and 2) the
production values set by the Department did not reflect the loss of production due to
drought. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 13].
County Board scheduled a hearing for July 19, 2004 at 3:00 p. m. to hear Petitioner’s
appeal. [County Board Record, p. 2].
explained to the County Board that the land in question is irrigated by a circular pivot
sprinkler and the sprinkler does not cover the corners of the land in question. [County
Board Record, p. 36]. He presented the County Board with a copy of the State of Wyoming
2003 Agricultural Land Valuation Study. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 21]. He
read into the record a portion of page 7-2.
irrigation crop land, a usable water right or irrigation wells must be present. A
functional irrigation system of ditches, pipes, sprinklers or other irrigation
improvements are required to achieve irrigated production and are considered part of the
County Board Record, p. 47]. Petitioner told the County Board that the corners of his
property do not have irrigation structures and should not be classified as irrigated crop
Petitioner requested that the acreage in land classification IR-V be changed from 46 acres
to 9 acres. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 37].
Petitioner brought to the County Board’s attention Article 15, Section 11(b) of the
Constitution of the State of Wyoming which states “agricultural and grazing lands which
shall be valued according to the capability of the land to produce agricultural products
under normal conditions.” [Hearing Tape]. He told the County Board that because of the
drought his production was down 30%. To substantiate his claim that these years of drought
were not normal conditions, he produced a letter from Dallas Mount, an Educator from the
University of Wyoming Extension Service. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 14].
Petitioner testified he had no argument with the way the Department figured the values of
production and that he understands the Assessor is required to follow rules and
regulations. However, since the drought began, there have been no adjustments for the loss
of production. He testified that valuations and tax assessments should reflect the loss of
production during drought years. [Hearing Tape].
the Petitioner’s presentation to the County Board, the Assessor questioned him about the
corners not covered by the sprinkler, asking Petitioner if these parcels were irrigated,
were they capable of producing a crop. He admitted that if the parcels had water that they
were capable of producing a crop. [Hearing Tape].
County Board asked why the areas outside the sprinkler system seemed to differ. The
Petitioner told the County Board that the sprinkler system only covered 280 degrees rather
than 360 degrees because of the location of the farmstead, stack-yards and out- buildings.
He explained that the sprinkler system did have an end gun that irrigated about 2 extra
acres. He repeated that the State of Wyoming’s Land Valuation Study stated if there were
no irrigation structures present the land should be classified as non-irrigated land.
Assessor presented her case to the County Board of Equalization by reviewing the 2004
Assessment for the Petitioner’s property. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 43.]
Assessor did not break down the classification and productive values on the notice of
assessment. She told the County Board that her office was assessing the Petitioner’s 160
acre farm as: 69 acres IR-II, 43 acres IR-III, 46 acres IR-V; and 2 acres for farmstead.
[Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 82].
is nothing in the record that explains how the Assessor arrived at the figures for each
class. However, it is apparent that the land in question was classified by the Assessor as
IR-V. [Hearing Tape.]
closing, the Assessor told the County Board she believed the 160 acres of land is
classified correctly and it is the Petitioner’s choice to irrigate all of it. His choice
does not affect the capability of the land to produce. [Hearing Tape.] The entire 160 acre
property has a water right. The landowner paid the irrigation district assessment on all
the land and received a water allotment from the irrigation district. [County Board
Record, p. 74].
County Board denied Petitioner’s contest of his property tax assessment on August 3,
2004. [County Board Record, pp. 17-19].
filed a notice of appeal with the State Board on August 12, 2004.
DISCUSSION OF PETITIONER’S ISSUES AND APPLICABLE LAW
timely filed an appeal from the County Board decision.
State Board has jurisdiction to hear and determine all issues raised by the Petitioner
pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-109(b).
Irrigated Crop Land Classification.
first issue raised by Petitioner concerns the classification of a portion of his farm land
as irrigated crop land. The crux of this controversy stems from the following language
contained in the Department’s Mapping and Agricultural Manual:
valuation model requires certain attributes to be present on the land for production to
occur. When valuing irrigated crop land, a usable water right or irrigation wells must be
present. A functional irrigation system of ditches, pipes, sprinklers or other irrigation
improvements are required to achieve irrigated production and are considered part of the
production value. When valuing range land, fences and stockwater wells/facilities are
required and are included in the production value. These assets are all included in the
taxable productivity value of agricultural land and therefore are not valued separately.
Agricultural Land Valuation Study, §7, p. 7-2, County Board Record, p. 47].
argument is based on the fact that his pivot irrigation system does not irrigate the
corners of his property. The Assessor’s argument and the County Board’s decision are
based on the capability of the land to produce.
primary consideration in classifying agricultural land for assessment purposes is the land’s
capability to produce agricultural products. Wyo. Const. art. XV §11(b); Wyo. Stat.
Ann. §39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV); Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §4
Wyoming Constitution, Article 15, §11(b) provides in pertinent part that: “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.” (emphasis added.)
Statutes Annotated Section 39-13-103(b)(x)(B) provides in pertinent part:
or noncontiguous parcels of land under one (1) operation owned or leased shall qualify for
classification as agricultural land if the land meets each of the following
* * *
(IV) The land
has been used or employed, consistent with the land’s size, location and capability to produce as defined by department rules and
the mapping and agricultural manual published by the department, primarily in an
agricultural operation, . . . (emphasis added.)
with Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV), the Department’s Rules further establish
that “[t]he Mapping and Agricultural Manual is the Department’s official source for
general mapping and agricultural land valuation standards for all County Assessors.” Rules,
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §4(a); [County Board Record, p. 66].
classification of agricultural land, for assessment purposes, shall be based on the
Mapping and Agricultural Manual in which the soil’s capability
to produce vegetation will be determined for three principal agricultural uses;
irrigated crop land, dry crop land and rangeland. (emphasis added.)
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §4(a)(ii); [County Board Record, p. 66].
Department is required to confer with, advise and give necessary instructions and
directions to the county assessors as to their duties, and to promulgate rules and
regulations necessary for the enforcement of all tax measures. Wyo. Stat. Ann.
§39-11-102(c)(xvi) and (xix). In particular, the Department “shall 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).
Department has adopted rules concerning the classification, valuation, methodology and
assessment of agricultural land.
are intended to describe the methods and procedures for classifying agricultural land as
to type, whether irrigated, dry cropland, rangeland, timberland or other; and to describe
the valuation methodology to be used to determine the taxable value of agricultural land
for ad valorem tax purposes. The manuals, formulae, methods, systems, computations,
standards, guidelines and criteria to be used by the County Assessors and Ad Valorem Tax
Division to determine taxable value are set forth herein.
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §2; [County Board Record, p. 63].
Rules of the Department define “Irrigated Crop Land” as “any land, which has water
applied to it by artificial means for the purpose of producing food or fiber, or
Christmas, ornamental and nursery trees.” The Rules define “Dry Crop Land” as “any
land which is harvested by mechanical means, and is used in the production of cereal
grains and row crops, alfalfa, legumes or grass hay, including sub-irrigated hay meadows,
or Christmas, ornamental and nursery trees.” The Rules define “Rangeland” as “any
land which is used for livestock production, and cannot or has not been cultivated by
mechanical means.” Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §3(g), (h)
& (j); [County Board Record, p. 64].
assessor is “responsible for developing and maintaining current maps, in accordance with
the Mapping and Agricultural Manual, which depict all three categories of agricultural
land use, which include irrigated crop land, dry crop land and rangeland.” Rules,
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §4(b)(iii). An assessor is required to
adhere to the standards and productivity sources as specified in the Department’s
Mapping and Agricultural Manual. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11,
Mapping and Agricultural Manual sets out the three steps for classifying agricultural land
productivity. The steps are: 1) Identify ownership, 2) Identify land use (irrigated crop
land, dry crop land and range land) and 3) Identify productivity. Mapping and
Agricultural Manual, §5, p. 5-1 (July 30, 1996).
identifying land use, the Mapping and Agricultural Manual recognizes that any one or all
three categories of agricultural land, irrigated crop land, dry crop land and rangeland,
may be found in any given parcel.
value each agricultural parcel, these categories must be correctly identified and located.
This is accomplished through the use of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Soil
Surveys, color infrared photography, aerial photography and U.S.G.S. [United States
Geological Survey] orthophotos.
Agricultural Manual, §5, p. 5-1 (July 30, 1996).
Wyoming law requires that water and reservoir rights originating in Wyoming and
appurtenant to and beneficially used in connection with lands within Wyoming shall be
assessed and taxed with the lands. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-103((b)(xi)(A).
the County Board hearing, Petitioner conceded that he has water rights for irrigation of
all of his land and could irrigate the entire parcel if the proper irrigation system were
installed. However, the corners of his property were not reached by the current pivot
irrigation system. [Hearing Tape.] The Petitioner variously described this land as either
dry cropland or fallow, without demonstrating either status.
Assessor argued that because Petitioner has water rights of 160 acres covering his entire
property and the capability of irrigating the entire parcel, the classification of the
entire parcel, with the exception of the homestead, as irrigated crop land was proper. The
County Board affirmed the Assessor’s classification concluding:
land which have valid adjudicated and available water rights should be determined to be
irrigated lands even if the land owner chooses to apply the water elsewhere.
Record, p. 85].
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 Regulation, 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.
County Board record lacks any evidence by Petitioner to challenge the Assessor’s
classification of the property based upon productive capacity.
on the applicable constitutional provision; the Wyoming Statutes and Rules and Regulations
of the Department, which require the Assessor to classify agricultural land based on its
capability to produce; the Petitioner’s water rights for the entire parcel; and the
absence of evidence of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Soil Surveys, color
infrared photography, aerial photography and U.S.G.S. orthophotos to establish a different
land classification, we conclude the decision of the County Board affirming the Assessor’s
land classification was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not
in accordance with law.
we conclude that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the findings of
the County Board.
Agricultural Land Values.
second issue relates directly to the values applied to his land by the Assessor. He
maintains that the agricultural land values developed by the Department and used by the
Assessor fail to properly take into account the results of the drought conditions
experienced in Platte County.
authority to determine the taxable value of agricultural lands is vested in the
[of revenue] shall determine the taxable value of agricultural land and prescribe the form
of the sworn statement to be used by the property owner to declare that the property meets
the requirements of subparagraph (B) . . . . In determining the taxable value for
assessment purposes under this paragraph, the value of agricultural land shall be based on
the current use of the land, and the capability of the land to produce agricultural
products including grazing and forage, based on the average yields of lands of the same
classification under normal conditions.
Ann. §39-13-103 (b)(x)(A).
Department, pursuant to statute, has adopted Rules, Chapter 11, Ad Valorem Classification,
Valuation, Methodology and Assessment for Designated Agricultural Land, which provides:
“Mapping and Agricultural Manual” produced by the Department
Revenue is the official standard for mapping and agricultural land
specification and valuations for property tax purposes in
with Wyoming Statute 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV).
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §3(s).
Department Rules, Chapter 11, §5 require the Department to develop valuation amounts for
agricultural land using the “Mapping and Agricultural Manual.” The determined value is
based upon the capacity of the land to produce forage or crops. The Department publishes
this valuation information through the annual Agricultural Land Valuation Study.
amounts for agricultural land for assessment purposes shall be based upon the Department’s
Mapping and Agricultural Manual, and shall be published annually by January first or as
soon thereafter as possible by the Department. The valuation of agricultural land is based
upon the land’s capability to produce forage or crops.
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §5(a). The annual Agricultural Land
Valuation Study is, in form and function, an order, procedure or formulae of the
assessor is required to annually value property within the assessor’s county for tax
purposes at its fair market value. In completing this task the assessor is required to “[f]aithfully
and diligently follow and apply the orders, procedures and formulae of the department of
revenue or orders of the State Board of Equalization for the appraisal and assessment of
all taxable property.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. §18-3-204(a)(ix).
addition, “[t]he county board of equalization has no power to and shall not set tax
policy nor engage in any administrative duties concerning assessments which are delegated
to the board, the department or the county assessor.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-102(d).
Department’s annual Agricultural Land Valuation Study, as an order, procedure, and
formulae, is binding on the assessor and neither the Assessor nor the County Board had the
authority to deviate from the valuation ranges established by the Department.
Department is not a party to this appeal. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization,
Chapter 3, §4. If Petitioner has a grievance with the Department for failing to
adequately take drought conditions into account when setting a range of values for the
County Assessor, his remedy does not lie in this appeal for the action of the County
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that the Platte County
Board of Equalization Order denying the Petitioners’ protest and affirming the 2004
assessment of Petitioners’ property 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 _______ day of January, 2005.
STATE BOARD OF
Alan B. Minier,
Wendy J. Soto,