BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
FREMONT COUNTY ASSESSOR FROM )
DECISION OF THE FREMONT COUNTY ) Docket
EQUALIZATION - 2004 )
DECISION AND ORDER
Martin, Deputy Fremont County Attorney, on behalf of Eileen Oakley, Fremont County
Assessor (Petitioner or Assessor).
Jerry Dechert, (Respondent or Taxpayer), appearing pro-se, on behalf of Lloyd and Annette
Dechert and Jerry and Renee Dechert.
This is an
appeal from a decision of the Fremont 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 was filed with
the State Board effective August 31, 2004. Both parties filed a brief as allowed by the
State Board’s October 8, 2004, Briefing Order. Neither party requested oral argument.
appealed the County Board decision ordering the Assessor to recalculate the value of the
Respondent’s irrigated crop land in Fremont County, Wyoming. The Assessor argues that
the County Board’s decision to recalculate the taxable value of the Respondent’s
property using a figure of $81.00 per ton for hay, or in the alternative to assess the
agricultural property at the same amount assessed for the 2002 tax year, was arbitrary,
capricious, unsupported by the substantial evidence, and contrary to law.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE
Board conducted a hearing on June 28, 2004. A “Decision on Appeal” was entered by the
County Board on August 2, 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
argues the County Board decision is unsupported by substantial evidence, and the County
Board arbitrarily and capriciously determined the property’s production value for 2004
that 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 of Revenue to develop values which must
be followed by the Assessor and County Board.
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE
The Respondent owns 1,098.29 acres of agricultural land in Fremont County, Wyoming,
consisting of four (4) parcels:
Lloyd D. &
Annette W. Dechert
Jerry D. &
S. Renee Dechert
Lloyd C. &
Annette W. Dechert
County Board Record, pp. 44-47].
Dechert and his son, Dr. Jerry Dechert (a part owner of Parcel 1), appeared on their own
behalf at the County Board hearing. Terrance R. Martin, Deputy Fremont County Attorney,
appeared at the hearing on behalf of Eileen Oakley, the Fremont County Assessor. [Hearing
On April 14, 2004, the Assessor sent 2004 tax year Notices of Assessment to the
Respondents for the four (4) parcels of land. [County Board Record, pp. 57- 60].
April 22, 2004, the Respondent filed a Statement To Contest 2004 Property Tax Assessment
for each of the four (4) parcels along with a cover letter and copies of 98 tickets for
hay sold. [County Board Record, pp. 2-26].
May 24, 2004, the County Board of Equalization scheduled a hearing for June 28, 2004, in
the matter of the four (4) protests of Respondent. [County Board Record, p. 43].
the hearing, the Respondent testified that he was not there to protest the land value but
to protest (1) the increase in value, and (2) the way the land value was obtained. As one
of the largest hay producers in Fremont County, he felt he had a good idea what the actual
price of hay per ton was for the 2004 tax year. He produced 98 tickets for sales of hay
which he sold for an average of $90.00 per ton. [County Board Record, pp. 2-26]. Delivered
hay cubes sold for $110.00 to $130.00 per ton. Poorer quality hay sold for $60.00 to
$75.00 per ton. [County Board Record, pp. 112-113, 123]. He testified that he was
protesting the use of $110.00 per ton by the Department of Revenue. He testified he
thought the value should be $81.00 per ton. [Hearing Tape].
Respondent produced a letter from Matt Vredenburg, Vice President of the First Interstate
Bank of Riverton, Wyoming. Mr. Vredenburg’s letter stated that the bank had reviewed
five of its customers’ records, including those of the Respondent, and concluded the
weighted average selling price for hay in 2003 was $76.00 per ton using a random sample
totaling 6,500 tons of hay. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 49].
Respondent showed the County Board the 2001, 2002 and 2003 Midvale Irrigation District
Crop Production Reports. The Midvale Irrigation Project is located in central Fremont
County. These reports are required of all federal irrigation projects by the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation and are used to confirm repayment contracts based on land productivity. The
Hay was $100 per ton and $312 per acre value.
Alfalfa Hay was $85 per ton and $306 per acre value.
Alfalfa Hay was $75 per ton and $307 per acre value.
Lloyd Dechert, testified that he did not get more for his hay per acre in those years, he
got less, but his taxes went up every year. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, pp.
Respondent’s next witness was Dr. Jerry Dechert, a part owner of the one of the parcels
under appeal. Dr. Dechart testified that he had a Ph.D. in finance, had been a consultant
in the area of quality control, and had done a great deal of computer modeling. He did an
analysis of where the values for taxation came from. He produced data from the USDA
Agricultural Statistics Service web site for the last thirteen (13) years. The data showed
that 2001 and 2002 were what he called bubble years. In other words, in Dr. Dechert’s
view they were not typical. He testified that this creates a problem and he presented the
County Board with four different approaches for crop valuation.
five (5) year weighted average that the Department of Revenue uses to come up with a value
of $96.37 per ton.
equally weighted average showing a value of $88.90 per ton.
thirteen (13) year average showing a value of $80.00 per ton.
average using Midvale figures for last five (5) years showing a value of $81.00 per ton.
testified that focusing on hay prices, two of the thirteen years were not realistic
figures. He disagreed with the way the Department uses the five year weighted average and
believes the Department needs to use an equal weighted average for assigning a value for
hay. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 54].
Dechert recommended the County Board look at the Midvale Irrigation District information
for valuing hay using an equal weighted average of $81.00 per ton for Fremont County. He
felt that this was a fairer figure in light of the information he had received from the
Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service (the Service). [County Board Record, p. 55]. The
Service could not tell him where the samples came from, what kind of hay was produced, how
much hay in tons was produced, or how many acres of hay were grown. The Service’s sample
consisted of 1,150,000 tons of hay produced from 400,000 acres in 2001. The Service
sampled approximately twenty-one producers each month. This process and formula has been
in place for approximately twenty years. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 55].
County Board questioned Dr. Dechert about where the $110.00 per ton came from and was told
that Dick Coulter, Director of Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service furnished a chart
showing the production from June, 2001, through May, 2002. The average price per ton from
two hundred fifty-two reports was $110.00 per ton. [County Board Record, p. 93]. However,
the names and figures from the individual reports were confidential. Also, Midvale had a
sample return of 76 percent where the state’s sample was around 4 percent. Dr. Dechert
testified again that he believed the Midvale five year average of $81.00 per ton was more
representative of Fremont County prices. [Hearing Tape].
Assessor told the County Board that this was an important presentation and she wanted to
go into more detail. She testified that the four parcels of land total 1,098 acres. The
Respondent’s land qualifies for agricultural valuation. The Wyoming Constitution states
that all agricultural property will be valued according to the land’s ability to produce
agricultural products under normal conditions. The Department figured productive value in
its 2004 Agricultural Land Valuation Study. [County Board Record, p. 77]. The Assessor is
given a range of values by the Department and she must stay within that range. There are
other factors that must be considered for proper classification: a) soil type, b) slope,
and c) rain fall. Using the Agricultural Land Valuation Study as a guideline from
Department of Revenue Rules, Chapter 11, she obtains a value for each soil classification.
The Assessor can not deviate from the range of valuation figures that come from the
Department, in this case she used the lowest figure possible. The commodity values of hay
comes from the Service. [County Board Record, pp. 96-97].
Assessor testified that she had questioned the figures in a letter to the Service and
received the same answers to her questions as the Respondent had received from Dick
Coulter, of the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service. [County Board Record, pp. 55-56,
County Board questioned the Assessor as to whether she could change these values. The
Assessor testified that two years ago she had used figures outside the range given to her
from the Department. She received a directive from the State Board of Equalization to
change all the tax notices that were outside the range. She had to send amended tax
notices to many taxpayers even though it was just a few dollars in each case. So in a
word, no, she could not change the values. [Hearing Tape].
the hearing closed the Respondent testified that he was not protesting the land values, he
was protesting the increase each year in value. He felt the figures given to the Assessor
were just plain wrong. He did not want the Assessor to recalculate his taxes and would be
happy with the same tax value he had the year before. [Hearing Tape].
August 2, 2004 the Fremont County Board of Equalization issued its decision ordering the
Assessor to recalculate the taxpayer’s agricultural property using $81.00 per ton for
hay, or in the alternative, to assess the agricultural property at the same amount
assessed for the 2002 tax year. [County Board Record, pp.104-107].
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)(ii).
issue raised by the Respondent at the County Board hearing and by the County Board’s
decision concerns the valuation of irrigated crop land: specifically, the price per ton of
hay used in the valuation process. At the County Board hearing, Respondent produced
tickets showing he was receiving an average price of $90.00 per ton. Respondent also
produced the crop report from the Midvale Irrigation District showing an average price for
hay produced during the 2003 production year of $75 per ton. Respondent’s argument, and
the County Board’s decision, is based on Dr. Dechert’s opinion that the price of hay
used to value irrigated crop land should be based on the five year average price reported
to the Midvale Irrigation District of $81.00 per ton, rather than the 5 year weighted
average used by the Department of Revenue.
Assessor argues that the County Board erred in ordering her to deviate from the values
established by the Department of Revenue’s 2004 Agricultural Land Valuation Study which
is the basis for valuation of irrigated crop land.
Wyoming Constitution, Article 15, §11(b) provides in pertinent part that: “[a]ll
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
authority to determine the taxable value of agricultural lands is vested in the Department
[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.
primary consideration in classifying agricultural land for assessment purposes is the land’s
capability to produce agricultural products under normal conditions. Wyo. Const. art.
15, §11(b); Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-103(b)(x)(A); Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue,
Chapter 11, §4(a)(I).
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, Chapter 11, Ad Valorem Classification, Valuation,
Methodology and Assessment for Designated Agricultural Land. Consistent with Wyo. Stat.
Ann. §39-13-103(b)(x)(A), the Department’s Rules provide 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. 68].
Department of Revenue’s 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
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 of Revenue. 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 formula of the
Department of Revenue’s Rules for the valuation of irrigated crop land further provide:
income from irrigated crop land is based on the price of all hay reported in dollars per
ton by the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service. This price information in converted to
a 5 year weighted average. The gross income from irrigated crop land is calculated using
the 5 year weighted average price of all hay per ton. . . .
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §5(b)(ii)(A)(I). [County Board Record, p.
assessor is required to select a value “. . . within the range of values for the current
year as published in the Ad Valorem Tax Division’s Agricultural Land Valuation Study.”
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11, §5(c)
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,
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11. “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 Respondent challenging the Assessor’s
productivity classification. By Department of Revenue Rule, valuation of irrigated crop
lands is based on values established by the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service each
year for the entire state. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11,
§5(b)(ii)(A)(I). Therefore, the valuation is not based on values from a particular
county or a specific irrigation district. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter
11, §5(b)(ii)(A)(I); supra ¶ 27.
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
formula, is binding on an assessor. Neither the Fremont County Assessor, nor the County
Board have the authority to deviate from the valuation ranges established by the
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, we conclude the decision of the County Board ordering
the Assessor to use $81.00 per ton for valuation was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of
discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.
conclude there was no substantial evidence in the record to support the County Board’s
alternative figures for the 2004 tax year. By law, the County Board was obliged to limit
its review to the range of values established by the Department for use by the Assessor.
Department is not a party to this appeal. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization,
Chapter 3, §4. If the Respondent has a grievance with the Department of Revenue
for setting a range of values for the County Assessor, the remedy does not lie in this
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that the Fremont County
Board of Equalization Order instructing the Assessor to revalue the Petitioners’
property is reversed and the Assessor’s 2004
assessment of Respondent’s property is 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 the appropriate district court by filing a petition
for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.
this _______ day of February, 2005.
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
B. Minier, Chairman
R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts
Wendy J. Soto,