BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF
FREMONT COUNTY ASSESSOR FROM
A DECISION OF THE FREMONT COUNTY
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2004
DECISION AND ORDER
Martin, Deputy Fremont County Attorney, on behalf of Eileen Oakley, Fremont County
Assessor (Petitioner or Assessor).
Colleen David (Respondent or Taxpayer) on behalf of themselves and Finlayson Pavillion
Family Ltd. Partnership, appearing pro-se.
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 Briefing Order dated October 8, 2004. Neither party requested oral
appealed a decision of the County Board ordering the Assessor to recalculate the assessed
value of Respondent’s irrigated property in Fremont County, Wyoming. The Assessor argues
that the County Board’s decision to recalculate the assessed value of the taxpayer’s
irrigated agricultural land using a price of $81.00 per ton of hay, or in the alternative,
to assess the property at the same amount assessed for tax year 2002 was arbitrary,
capricious, unsupported by 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 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, §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:
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
raises two objections to the County Board’s decision: 1) the County Board decision was
unsupported by substantial evidence; and 2) the County Board decision arbitrarily and
capriciously determined the property’s 2004 production value for tax purposes. [State
Board Record, Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal].
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
Respondent owns or controls 3 parcels of land in Fremont County, Wyoming, consisting of
approximately 729.55 acres, including the homestead. Of this total, approximately 568
acres are classified as irrigated crop land by the Assessor. [Hearing Tape; County Board
Record, pp. 20-22]. The three parcels of land are:
Pavillion Family Ltd. Partnership
Pavillion Family Ltd. Partnership
are located in Township 3 North, Range 2 East in Fremont County, Wyoming. Colleen David is
the Operations Manager for the Finlayson Pavillion Family Ltd. Partnership. [County Board
Record, pp.11-4; Hearing Tape].
Assessor sent Respondent Notices of Assessment for the 2004 tax year on April 14, 2004.
[County Board Record, pp. 20-22].
May 13, 2004, Respondent filed a STATEMENT TO CONTEST PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT for each of
the three parcels. [County Board Record, pp. 1-6]. On June 14, 2004, the Respondent wrote
a letter to the County Assessor advising that it is a cow calf operation and feeding hay.
Respondent protested the way property taxes were computed on the basis of hay sales.
[County Board Record, p. 14]. The Respondent attached to the letter evidence later
admitted at the hearing, including calf prices, expense information used for federal
taxes, and crop reports from the Midvale Irrigation District for the 2002 and 2003
production years. Midvale Irrigation District is a federally financed irrigation project
located in central Fremont County. The crop productivity report is required by the federal
government for all federally financed irrigation projects to confirm repayment contracts.
[County Board Record, pp. 15-19].
County Board scheduled a hearing for June 28, 2004 at 3:00 p.m. to hear Respondent’s
appeal. [County Board Record, p. 7]. At the hearing, Colleen David testified on behalf of
the Taxpayer. The Assessor was represented by Terrance R. Martin, Deputy County Attorney,
and testified on her own behalf at the hearing. [Hearing Tape].
Respondent testified that she understood taxes were based on $109.00 per ton of hay but
she operates a cow/calf operation and sells very little hay. Respondent’s hay is not
prime hay; it is a mixture of grass and alfalfa. Respondent feeds most of its hay to its
own cows. [Hearing Tape].
Respondent provided the County Board with the crop reports from the Midvale Irrigation
District for 2002 and 2003. These reports were generated from questionnaires sent to all
water users in the irrigation district. Midvale has a sixty-five to seventy-five percent
return on the questionnaires. The Respondent felt its hay would be in the class of “other
hay” since she raised grass hay. Respondent pointed out that the $109.00 per ton hay did
not reflect hay from its irrigated crop land. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, pp.
Respondent gave the County Board copies of Riverton Livestock Auction receipts to show how
the prices for cattle fluctuate using actual prices received for cattle. Respondent also
included receipts from the Mountain Agronomy Center to show the type of expenses incurred
in its cow/calf operations. [County Board Record, pp. 17-19].
Respondent testified that after looking at hay price figures in the Assessor’s Exhibit H
she had an objection to being taxed on the value of hay prices from other areas of the
state. [Hearing Tape; County Board Record, p. 58].
Hearing Officer asked the Respondent what she thought the taxes should be and the basis
for that figure. Respondent testified that she did not think the weighted average made any
sense when examining the actual figures from Midvale Irrigation District, and that if she
had to pick a figure it would be at the same level as tax year 2002. [Hearing Tape].
Respondent testified that “she was a little ignorant as to how the Assessor came up with
the figures for valuation of agricultural land” but did understand there were different
classes of land. Respondent’s main objection was concerning the average price of hay in
the 2004 Agricultural Land Valuation Study of $84.50 for 2000, $109.00 for 2001 and
$110.00 for 2002. [Hearing Tape].
cross examination, Respondent was asked how Midvale Irrigation District came up with the
figures and what kind of return it had. Respondent testified that the district sends out a
questionnaire each year to all water users and had a sixty-two percent return in 2002 and
seventy-six percent return in 2003. The Irrigation District figures were not weighted but
straight line averages. [Hearing Tape].
testified that she sold hay for $75 per ton in 2003 and $85 per ton in 2002 on a contract
with Don Abernathy. Respondent then fed the hay to Mr. Abernathy’s cows for that price.
Assessor explained that the Taxpayer’s three parcels totaled 729.55 acres, including the
two acre homestead. All three parcels qualify for agricultural land classification.
[Hearing Tape; County Board Record, pp. 20-22].
Assessor reviewed the process of establishing the value of irrigated agricultural land in
Fremont County. She explained the Wyoming statutes give the Department the authority to
set agricultural land values. Her land classification is based on climate and productivity
data as well as the length of growing season which are all considered in the selection of
the Land Resource Area (LRA). The second area in the classification process is the soil
type which is based on the soil survey information which comes from the United States
Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Service. This soils information is very similar
to information the Midvale Irrigation District uses. She explained that the Department
annually sets a range of agricultural land values which all assessors in the state must
use. The values are contained in the Department of Revenue’s 2004 Agricultural Land
Value Study and show the five (5) year weighted average cost per ton of hay. [Hearing
Tape]. She presented the 2004 agricultural valuation worksheet to the County Board showing
the values she assigned to each classification of land. [County Board Record, p. 50]. She
pointed out the David properties have only one LRA but the values varied for different
soil types from a low of $255 per acre to a high of $1,147 per acre. [Hearing Tape; County
Board Record, pp. 36-50].
an effort to better understand where the Department’s figures came from, the Assessor
wrote to Mr. Dick Coulter, the director of the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service.
[County Board Record, p. 51]. She felt the figures were not representative of what was
happening in Fremont County. [Hearing Tape]. She nevertheless valued agriculture lands at
the lowest possible values furnished to her by the Department. These values are based on
average production for the entire state of Wyoming, as required by the Wyoming
Constitution. The Assessor told the County Board she thinks the formula and rules are fine
but she concedes the commodity values from the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service do
not reflect the actual hay prices in Fremont County. [Hearing Tape].
August 2, 2004, the County Board issued its decision ordering the Assessor to recalculate
the Respondent’s agricultural property value using $81.00 per ton for hay, or in the
alternative, to assess the Respondent’s agricultural property at the same amount
assessed for the 2002 tax year. [County Board Record, p.107].
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 properly 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.
15, section 11(b) of the Wyoming Constitution 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
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 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’s Rules, Chapter 11, §5(a) 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’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, pp.
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). [County Board Record, p.
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. 1976).
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).
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, an 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 the 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.
further 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 was obliged
to limit its review to the range of values established by the Department for use by 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 for setting a
range of values for 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 Petitioners’
property is reversed and the Assessor’s 2004
assessment of Respondents’ 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 at the appropriate district court by filing a
petition for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.
Dated this _______ day of February, 2005.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
B. Minier, Chairman
R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Roberts, Board Member
Wendy J. Soto,