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 )
Terrance R. Martin, Deputy Fremont County Attorney, on behalf of
Eileen Oakley, Fremont County Assessor (Petitioner or Assessor).
Clay Griffith, appearing pro se, on behalf of Mary Jane Griffith
and the Allen Griffith Testamentary Trust (Respondents or Taxpayers).
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. The Assessor
filed a brief as allowed by the State Board’s November 8, 2004, Briefing Order. The
Respondents did not file a brief. Neither party requested oral argument.
The Assessor appealed the County Board decision ordering the
Assessor to recalculate the value of Respondent’s irrigated crop land in Fremont County,
Wyoming. The Assessor argues that the County Board’s decision ordering the recalculation
of the taxable value of Taxpayer’s property using a figure of $81.00 per ton, or in the
alternative, the same amount assessed for the 2002 tax year, was arbitrary, capricious,
and unsupported by substantial evidence.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COUNTY BOARD
The County Board conducted a hearing on June 28, 2004. A “Decision
on Appeal” was entered by the County Board on August 2, 2004.
The State 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;
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:
(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.
Since the 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
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 conclusions.
Clark v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workers’ Safety and
Compensation Division, 934 P.2d 1269, 1272 (Wyo. 1997).
Petitioner 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 tax purposes.
We conclude 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 to develop values which must be followed by the Assessor and County Board.
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE COUNTY BOARD
own or control 1,860.48 acres of agricultural land in Fremont County, Wyoming, containing
640 acres of irrigated crop land classified as follows:
[ County Board Record, p. 5].
Griffith appeared at the County Board hearing on behalf of Respondents. Terrance R.
Martin, Deputy Fremont County Attorney, appeared at the hearing on behalf of the Assessor.
April 14, 2004, the Assessor sent 2004 tax year Notices of Assessment to the Respondents
which included the irrigated crop lands. [County Board Record, p. 6].
May 5, 2004, Respondents filed a Statement To Contest 2004 Property Tax Assessment.
[County Board Record, pp. 1-3].
May 24, 2004, the County Board of Equalization scheduled a July 28, 2004 hearing in the
matter of Respondents’ protest. [County Board Record, p. 3].
Griffith testified Respondents bought the farm in November, 2002. He lives on the farm and
is a trustee of the Allen Griffith Testamentary Trust. He was at the hearing because his
taxes had gone up 23 percent. [Hearing Tape].
Griffith testified he was a ranch broker and full partner in Western Land Service. The
sale of Respondents’ farm in 2002 was the last sale in the Riverton Valley. His firm has
approximately $50 million worth of farms listed with the real estate firm, but did not
sell any in 2003. Actual value of farms in the area has not gone up, it has gone down. His
taxes however have increased from $3,357 in 2003 tax year to $4,139 for 2004 tax year.
[County Board Record, Exhibit A, p. 6; Hearing Tape].
Griffith testified a farm purchaser wants to grow hay and make a profit of five to ten
percent which determines the values of farms. In 2002, 2003, and 2004 there has been no
profit in raising hay.[Hearing Tape].
testified he believed the formula used to value irrigated crop lands is almost a form of
gross income tax. However, if the County Board were to examine his federal tax returns,
they would find that he got money back because they did not make a profit on the farm. He
did not feel the formula used to determine the production value took into account his
actual expenses. [Hearing Tape].
10. Mr. Griffith
testified that in valuing these farms based on productivity, you have to also take into
account the actual conditions in a given year in addition to the soils, slope and
moisture. If you are on a side stream and had no water at all, then you would be taxed on
hay that you did not produce under the formula. He objected to the formula’s assumption
that everyone employs the same farm practices. [Hearing Tape]. He bought a farm that by
statute was categorized as equal to all other farms when in fact it was not equal.
11. Mr. Griffith
testified the former owner of the property auctioned off the hay on the property in 2003
and received $85.00 per ton for the hay. [Hearing Tape].
12. Mr. Griffith
presented a map of Respondents’ land highlighted to show the portion of the irrigated
crop lands that did not produce anything but weeds in 2003 because of the drought. Of the
640 acres of irrigated crop land, 315 acres were fallow and not in production due to the
drought. He testified that the irrigated area produced hay with so many weeds it could not
be sold. The hay was used to feed his cows. He estimated the hay produced and fed to his
cows in 2003 was worth $60.00 per ton. [Hearing Tape].
13. Mr. Griffith
expressed his opinion that values should be based on Fremont County’s water assessment
or average hay production. [Hearing Tape].
14. Mr. Griffith
testified that the 2003 tax amount of $3,357.00, with the Assessor’s adjustment for the
two buildings which had been added to the assessment schedule, was acceptable. [Hearing
15. Mr. Griffith
testified he was concerned as a realtor, producer and member of the community, that
profits decrease over time. The land remains the same yet the productivity of these farms
are going down. To properly rotate crops requires a capital improvement of over $100 per
acre. The formula used to value his land assumes everyone follows the same farming
practices and produces the same crop which is not true. A sugar beet grower is assessed
the same as a hay grower. [Hearing Tape].
16. The Assessor
testified Respondents’ total taxable value was $597,070. The buildings were valued using
the CAMA system, the two houses were valued at $134,400 and the outbuildings were valued
at $91,500. The valuation of the buildings was not protested. The taxable value of the
1,860.48 acres of agricultural land, including 640 acres of irrigated crop land, was
$371,170. A portion of the 23 percent tax increase was attributable to the increased value
of the two houses and inclusion of two outbuildings in valuation. Respondents’ land
qualifies for agricultural valuation. [County Board Record, Exhibit A, p. 6; Hearing
17. The Assessor
testified that the Wyoming Constitution requires all property be valued at full value
except agricultural and grazing lands which are valued according to the land’s ability
to produce agricultural products under normal conditions. [Hearing Tape].
18. The productive
value was determined using the 2004 Agricultural Land Value Study [Exhibit D] and the
Mapping and Agricultural Manual described in Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-11-102. The Assessor
explained the constitutional requirements for agricultural valuation are also described in
Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-103. The Department must determine the taxable value of
agricultural land. The Department figured productive value in its 2004 Agricultural Land
Valuation Study. [County Board Record, p. 24]. The Assessor is given a range of values by
the Department, and she must stay within that range. [Hearing Tape].
19. The Assessor
characterized Mr. Griffith’s testimony as a discussion of market values. She explained
that agricultural land is not based on market value. Rather, the production values are
two-thirds to three-fourths of what the market value would be for the same land.
20. For proper
classification the Assessor considers: a) soil type, b) slope, and c) rain fall. Using the
2004 Agricultural Land Valuation Study as a guideline and Department of Revenue Rules,
Chapter 11, she obtained a value for each soil classification. The Assessor testified the
values used for Fremont County range from $255 to $1,147 per acre depending on the soil
classification. Because of the drought, she used the lowest possible values for each land
classification. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, Exhibit E, p. 33].
21. The Assessor
testified she cannot deviate from the range of valuation figures provided by the
Department. The commodity values of hay come from the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics
Service. For irrigated land the value is to be based on the price of all hay reported in
dollars per ton. [County Board Record, p. 21]. She explained that production expenses are
taken into consideration in the Department’s formula. [Hearing Tape; County Board
Record, p. 24].
22. The Assessor
testified the Wyoming Constitution and Statutes require the values to be based on average
production. If an agricultural producer finds the values based on soils condition, slope
and climatic conditions are incorrect, she would gladly consider a change in land
classification. If there isn’t water and it looks like the condition is not temporary,
she would consider changing the land’s productive class. However, Land Resource Areas,
based on average rainfall and growing season, are generally the same for this area.
23. On August 2,
2004 the County Board 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, p. 61].
24. Finally, we
note the County Board hearing officer stated the County Board would take judicial notice
of questions and answers from a prior hearing. However, the hearing officer failed to
specify the evidence noticed, and the record does not contain any evidence from another
County Board hearing. Therefore, we base our decision in this case on the evidence
contained in the record before us.
DISCUSSION OF PETITIONER’S ISSUES AND APPLICABLE LAW
timely filed an appeal from the County Board decision.
26. The State
Board has jurisdiction to hear and determine all issues raised by Petitioner pursuant to
Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-109(b).
27. The issue
raised by 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 and the formula used for land production values.
28. The Assessor
argues that the County Board erred in ordering her to deviate from the values established
by the Department’s 2004 Agricultural Land Valuation Study which is the basis for
valuation of irrigated crop land.
29. The 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
30. The authority
to determine the taxable value of agricultural lands is vested in the Department:
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.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-103 (b)(x)(A).
31. The 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).
32. The 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).
33. The 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).
34. The Department’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 Valuation Study:
Valuation 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
Rules, 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.
35. The Department’s
Rules for the valuation of irrigated crop land further provide:
The gross 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 is 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. . . .
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 11,
36. An 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).
37. 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. 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 293, 294 (Wyo. 1976).
38. The County
Board record lacks any evidence by Respondent challenging the Assessor’s productivity
classification. By Department 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).
39. An 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).
40. In 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).
41. The Department’s
annual Agricultural Land Valuation Study, as an order, procedure, and formula, is binding
on an assessor. Neither the Assessor nor the County Board have the authority to deviate
from the valuation ranges established by the Department.
42. Based on the
applicable constitutional provision; the Wyoming Statutes; and the Rules and Regulations
of the Department which require the assessor to classify agricultural land based on its
capability to produce under normal conditions, we conclude the decision of the County
Board ordering the Assessor to recalculate the value of taxpayer’s irrigated
agricultural 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 tax year 2002 (which
is inconsistent with the Respondent’s request that taxes be set at the 2003 amount), was
arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.
43. Further we
conclude there is no substantial evidence in the record to support the County Board’s
alternative figures for the 2004 tax year. By law, the County Board is obliged to limit
its review to the range of values established by the Department for use by the Assessor.
44. The 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 based on the Department’s
formula for determining values or the range of values established by the Department for
use by the County Assessor, the remedy does not lie in this appeal.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that the Fremont County
Board of Equalization Order instructing the Assessor to revalue the Respondent’s
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
Dated this _______ day of February, 2005.
STATE BOARD OF
Alan B. Minier, Chairman
Thomas R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts, Board Member
Wendy J. Soto,