BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
ALBANY COUNTY ASSESSOR FROM )
DECISION OF THE ALBANY COUNTY ) Docket
EQUALIZATION - 2004 )
VALUATION (Crane Property) )
DECISION AND ORDER
Schermetzler, Deputy Albany County Attorney on behalf of Deborah J. Nagel Smith, the
Albany County Assessor (Petitioner or Assessor).
Crane, appearing pro se, on behalf of himself and Mrs. Charles H. Crane (Respondent or
This is an
appeal from a decision of the Albany 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 October 6, 2004. The Petitioner and Respondent filed briefs as
allowed by the State Board’s Briefing Order issued December 16, 2004. Neither party
requested oral argument.
appealed a decision of the County Board modifying the Assessor’s 2004 valuation of the
Crane Property from $111,900 to $97,500. We reverse the decision of the County Board and
reinstate the Assessor’s valuation.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE
Board conducted a hearing on July 23, 2004. A “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and
Order” was entered by the County Board on September 7, 2004, directing the Assessor to
lower the Taxpayer’s valuation from $111,900 to $97,500.
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. 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; Wyo. Stat. Ann.
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 issues with the County Board decision: whether the County Board decision is
unsubstantiated by the evidence, and whether the decision arbitrarily and capriciously
determines the property’s fair market value for the 2004 tax purposes.
the decision of the County Board was arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by substantial
evidence. We further conclude there was substantial evidence in the record supporting the
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE
Respondent owns a residential property at 87 USFS FDR #633, Albany County, Wyoming.
[County Board Record, p. 5].
Assessor sent Respondent a Notice of Assessment for the 2004 tax year on May 18, 2004.
[County Board Record, p. 50].
June 16, 2004, Respondent filed a Petition For Appeal. The Albany County Assessor sent a
letter to the Taxpayer advising him of the July 23, 2004 hearing before the Albany County
Board of Equalization. [County Board Record, pp. 16-17].
the hearing the Respondent testified he was concerned about the increase in the assessed
value of his property since 2003 and properties in the south end of the county that were
used as comparisons. [Trans. pp. 103, 109].
evidence before the County Board consisted of a written statement, Assessment Notice for
2003 Tax Year, legal description of the property, and photographs of the property. [County
Board Record, pp. 87-96].
expressed concern that the comparable properties used by the Assessor were “at the other
end of the county and are in much different recreational areas.” The map of the
comparable properties submitted by the Assessor confirms that the Respondent’s property
is located in the northeast corner of Albany County while four of the comparable
properties used by the Assessor are in the southwest corner of Albany County and the fifth
comparable is south of Laramie. [County Board Record, map].
also expressed concern that the valuation of his property increased by 34.5% from 2003 to
2004. [County Board Record, p. 96].
Frank, Residential Appraiser for the Albany County Assessor’s Office, testified that she
was a certified property tax appraiser in the State of Wyoming and had a permanent
certification from the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO). [Trans. p.
Appraiser testified with regard to the valuation process using the Computer Assisted Mass
Appraisal system (CAMA). She testified that all sales in Albany County are recorded with
the county clerk and verified to make sure the sales are arms-length transactions. Only
qualified sales are used in the sales approach for valuation and these verified sales are
entered into the computer. [Trans. p. 107].
Appraiser testified comparable sales are based on features of the assessed buildings and
land, such as age, size, land area, garages, decks and number of baths. These features are
used to select comparable properties and are adjusted so they look like the subject
property, much like a fee appraiser does when doing a fee appraisal. [Trans. p. 108].
Appraiser testified in order to get enough sales to create a model, they must use all the
sales within the county outside of the city of Laramie to support the use of the CAMA
system. For any given assessment year, the Assessor will consider sales within the
preceding five year period. [Trans. p. 108; Assessor’s Exhibit 28, p. 43].
Appraiser testified the Crane property is a cabin; basically a recreational use structure
similar to many cabins near the Colorado border. In the northern part of Albany County
there are several 35 acre subdivisions that can not be used as comparable since they are
larger sections of land. All sales used for comparison have been verified as arm’s-length
transactions in Albany County as recorded in the county clerk’s office in the last five
years. [Trans. pp. 110-112].
to the Appraiser, the Respondent’s property value was affected by new sales that were
comparable. These recent sales are weighed more heavily than earlier sales. The new sales
reflect the fact that people are paying more for this type of property than they were a
year ago. [Trans. pp. 112-113].
Respondent questioned the Appraiser as to whether or not two sales in the Crane’s Harris
Park area were used as comparables (the Hensel property and Beatty property). [Trans. p.
Appraiser testified the Assessors’ Office had no record of a valid sale which actually
took place for the Beatty property in the last five years. However, the Hensel property
sold on September 16, 2003 for $75,000. It was not used as a comparable because of
differences in square footage, age, bathrooms and heating. She testified there are many
differences between neighboring properties. [Trans. pp. 114, 116, 124].
property was adjusted from $136,100 to $83,200 in 2003. The valuation was run at
replacement cost new less depreciation. It was the only approved method of valuation they
were able to apply to the Respondent’s property because at that time they were unable to
obtain sufficient data to use the comparable sales approach. For the 2004 tax years the
Assessor could use the comparable sales approach for the Respondent’s property, which
produced the increased of valuation of $111,900. [County Board Record, p. 20; Trans. pp.
September 7, 2004, the County Board issued its decision modifying the Assessor’s
valuation. [County Board Record, p. 128].
PETITIONER’S ISSUES AND APPLICABLE LAW
Notice of Appeal to the State Board was filed timely. The State Board has jurisdiction to
hear and determine all issues properly raised pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann.
Department of Revenue (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).
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).
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:
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 (l923). 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.”
Electric 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.
market value is defined as:
in cash, or terms reasonable 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 reasonable time.
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 Mc Dermott & 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(a), (b) and (d). “The burden is on the Taxpayer to
establish any overvaluation.” Hillard v. Big Horn Coal Co., 549 P.2d 294 (Wyo.
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.
record shows the Assessor complied with all the requirements of the state law in
determining the value for the Respondent’s property by using sales comparison approach
to value the property as prescribed in Chapter 9 of the Rules promulgated by the
Department. The Department’s Rules oblige the Assessor to reconcile the differences
between the results of different valuation approaches, and to “place the most weight and
reliance on the value indicator which, in his professional judgement, best approximates
the value of the subject property.” Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9,
§7. The uncontroverted testimony of the appraiser showed that she followed the
Department’s Rule and relied on the sales comparison approach. The record also shows how
and why the appraiser was restricted to only the cost approach in the prior year, with a
result more favorable to the Respondent.
The Respondent did not demonstrate that the Assessor’s CAMA based results were
incorrect. While the Respondent is obviously of the opinion that different properties
should have been used as comparables, and questioned the location of some of the
comparables upon which the Assessor relied, he could not prevail simply by having an
opinion contrary to that of the Assessor. As we have already noted, a mere difference of
opinion is not sufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of the Assessor’s
valuation. Supra, ¶23. The County Board’s decision to accept the lay opinion of
the Respondent is contrary to law.
the County Board did was to simply calculate a compromise value, splitting the difference
between the prior year valuation of $83,200 and the present year valuation of $111,900.
The County Board is not authorized to compromise valuations, or to order a valuation which
does not take into account the requirements of the Department’s Rules. “The county
board of equalization has no power to and shall not set tax policy or engage in any
administrative duties concerning assessments which are delegated to the [state] board, the
department, or the county assessor.” Wyo. Stat. Ann §39-13-102(d). The County
Board’s substitute value is therefore arbitrary and capricious.
County Board’s value is likewise unsupported by substantial evidence. It is not the
result of a CAMA based recalculation, or of any justifiable alternative valuation method
consistent with the Department’s Rules.
we conclude there was substantial evidence in the record to support the value of the
County Assessor. The Appraiser testified how the CAMA based valuation was reached.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED that the Albany County
Board of Equalization Order modifying the valuation of Respondent’s 2004 property is reversed. 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 at the appropriate district court by filing a
petition for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.
this _______ day of April, 2005.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Alan B. Minier, Chairman
R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Wendy J. Soto,