BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
MICHAEL W. GILL FROM )
A DECISION OF THE LARAMIE COUNTY ) Docket No. 2006-102
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2006 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
DECISION AND ORDER
Michael W. Gill appeared pro se (Petitioner or Taxpayer).
Mark T. Voss, Laramie County Attorney, appeared on behalf of Brenda Arnold, the Laramie County Assessor (Respondent or Assessor).
This is an appeal from a decision of the Laramie 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 parties’ briefs, the hearing record and the decision of the County Board.
Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal was filed with the State Board effective September 1, 2006. Petitioner and the Assessor filed briefs as allowed by the State Board’s Briefing Order issued October 4, 2006. Neither party requested oral argument.
Petitioner appeals the County Board decision affirming the Assessor’s 2006 fair market valuation of his property. We will evaluate the Taxpayer’s claims against our standard of review, which is whether the ruling of the County Board was arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence, and/or contrary to law. Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3, § 9. We affirm the decision of the County Board.
*The only change to this decision and order is to correct a formatting error in paragraph 16 on page 6
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COUNTY BOARD
The County Board conducted a hearing on June 12, 2006. The County Board’s Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order were entered by the County Board on August 2, 2006, affirming the Assessor’s 2006 fair market value for Petitioner’s property.
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 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 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; Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 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:
(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 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 conclusions.
Romero v. Davy McKee Corp., 854 P.2d 59, 61 (Wyo. 1993).
Under our standards of review, the Petitioner must argue that the County Board decision is unsupported by substantial evidence, and/or the County Board acted arbitrarily and capriciously in affirming the Assessor’s value for 2006 tax purposes.
We conclude the decision of the County Board was neither unlawful, arbitrary, nor capricious. We further conclude there was substantial evidence in the record supporting the Assessor’s valuation and the County Board’s decision.
FACTS PRESENTED TO THE COUNTY BOARD
1. Petitioner owns residential property at 415 Comanche Drive, Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming. [County Board Record, p. 46].
2. The Assessor sent Petitioner a Notice of Assessment for the 2006 tax year in March, 2006. The Notice indicated a 2006 fair market value of $534,918, an increase of $237,534 over the listed 2005 fair market value of $297,384. [County Board Record, pp. 129, 144; County Board Findings, ¶ 5].
3. Petitioner requested the Assessor review the characteristics of his property. Based on the information provided by Petitioner, the Assessor issued an amended assessment schedule reducing the fair market value of Petitioner’s property to $504,910. [County Board Record, pp. 130, 144; County Board Findings, ¶ 5].
4. Petitioner requested a physical review of the interior of his property by the Assessor which resulted in a second revised assessment schedule further reducing the fair market value of Petitioner’s property to $411,619. [County Board Record, pp. 131, 145; County Board Findings, ¶ 5].
5. On April 24, 2006, Petitioner filed an Official Appeal of Assessment with the County Board. [County Board Record, p. 1A]. The County Board held a hearing on Petitioner’s appeal on June 12, 2006. [County Board Record, p. 2A].
6. Petitioner appeared pro se at the County Board hearing. Peter H. Froelicher, then Laramie County Attorney, appeared at the hearing with the Assessor. [County Board Record, p. 2].
7. Petitioner asserted his property was overvalued by the Assessor. To support his position, Petitioner offered a market analysis performed by a local realtor, a CASA Report used by the banking industry for loan purposes, his analysis of values of other properties on a square footage basis, including properties in an upscale neighborhood north of his property, and fair market values of other properties that did not show an increase similar to his property. [County Board Record, pp. 47-127; County Board Findings, ¶ 2].
8. The Assessor testified she had been Laramie County Assessor since 1995, was certified by the State of Wyoming as a property tax appraiser, and was accredited by the International Association of Assessing Officers. [County Board Record, p. 15; County Board Findings, ¶ 4]. She described the process utilized in obtaining information concerning Petitioner’s property and the adjustments made as a result of that information. [County Board Record, pp. 17-18]. The Assessor described how the property characteristics were used in the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal system (CAMA) to determine replacement cost, which was then reduced by depreciation to obtain replacement cost new less depreciation (RCNLD), and how RCNLD was then adjusted by open-market sales data for similar homes. [County Board Record, pp. 16-19; County Board Findings,¶ 6, 7].
9. The fair market value of Petitioner’s property was calculated by the Assessor using the CAMA system. [County Board Record, p. 145; County Board Findings, ¶ 8].
10. The Assessor testified how the market adjustment was calculated utilizing sales of properties with similar ages and locations as Petitioner’s property. [County Board Record, pp. 17, 19]. The Assessor did not use information from the upscale neighborhood identified by Petitioner as it had only two sales and the characteristics of the area, including house age and type of construction, were different. [County Board Record, p. 19; County Board Findings, ¶ 9].
11. The County Board issued its decision on August 2, 2006, affirming the Assessor’s final 2006 fair market value of Petitioner’s property. The County Board decision was based on the County Board’s conclusion that the Petitioner had failed to meet his burden of showing the Assessor had failed to properly utilize the CAMA system in valuing Petitioner’s property. [County Board Record, pp. 141-149; County Board Conclusions, ¶¶ 8, 11].
DISCUSSION OF ISSUES AND APPLICABLE LAW
12. Petitioner’s Notice of Appeal to the State Board was timely filed. The State Board has jurisdiction to hear and determine all issues properly raised pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(b)(ii).
13. 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).
14. 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, 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).
15. The 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.”
16. The determination of fair market value involves a degree of discretion:
Early on, 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 (1923). 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.”
Basin 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).
17. Broken 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.
18. All 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. § 39-13-103(b)(i)(A).
19. Fair market value is defined as:
[T]he amount 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.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-101(a)(vi).
20. The 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. The rules also authorize the use of the CAMA system. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9, § 6(a), (b), (c), and (d).
21. 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 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 Regulations 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 293, 294 (Wyo. 1976).
22. The 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); Britt v. Fremont County Assessor, 2006 WY 10, ¶ 17, 126 P.3d 117, 123 (Wyo. 2006). 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 which result from its use. Gray, supra, at 1351.
23. Each issue raised by Petitioner turns on the question of whether there is substantial evidence in the record which reasonably supports the County Board’s decision. In determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record, the State Board will not substitute its judgement of findings reasonably supported by evidence in the County Board record. Laramie County Board of Equalization v. State Board of Equalization, 915 P.2d 1184, 1188-1189 (Wyo. 1996); Holly Sugar Corp. v. Wyoming State Board of Equalization, 839 P.2d 959 (Wyo. 1992); Sage Club, Inc. v. Employment Sec. Comm’n., 601 P.2d 1306, 1310 (Wyo. 1979). While substantial evidence may be less than the weight of the evidence, it cannot be clearly contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The Wyoming Supreme Court has stated “[s]ubstantial evidence is a term of art best described as relevant evidence that a reasonable mind can accept as adequate support for an agency’s conclusion.” Sidwell v. State Workers’ Compensation Div., 977 P.2d 60, 63 (Wyo. 1999).
24. The Assessor complied with the requirements of state law in determining the value for the Taxpayer’s property by using the cost and sales comparison approaches to value the property as prescribed in Chapter 9 of the Rules promulgated by the Department. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9, § 6(a).
25. The Taxpayer did not demonstrate the Assessor’s CAMA based results were incorrect. While the Taxpayer is obviously of the opinion that his review of other properties, the real estate agent’s market analysis ,and the CASA loan report do not support the Assessor’s 2006 value, he can 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, ¶ 21.
26. Neither the Taxpayer’s market analysis nor his CASA report are sufficient to call into question the Assessor’s value. The market analysis was performed in May of 2006, after the statutory assessment date. It specifically states that it is “a free market analysis and not a paid professional appraisal.” [County Board Record, p. 47]. The estimated value is of questionable relevance even if considered since it post-dates the statutory assessment date of January 1, 2006.
27. The CASA report dated March 6, 2006, is of questionable relevance because of its date. It is also of questionable relevance because Petitioner described it as what a mortgage company uses for “home-line-of-credit on your house or something like that.” County Board Record, p. 12]. Petitioner was unable to describe how CASA calculated the value. [County Board Record, pp. 12-13].
28. Finally, Petitioner’s calculations based on information from other property sales and assessed values demonstrates nothing more than a difference of opinion, a difference that is not sufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of the Assessor’s valuation. Supra, ¶ 21.
29. We conclude there is substantial evidence in the record to support the County Board’s decision affirming the valuation of the Assessor. The Assessor testified how the fair market valuation was reached utilizing the characteristics of Petitioner’s property and the CAMA system.
30. While we can appreciate the Taxpayer’s reaction to his initial 2006 assessment notice, we nonetheless conclude the County Board decision was neither unlawful, arbitrary, nor capricious.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED the Laramie County Board of Equalization Order affirming the Assessor’s 2006 valuation of Petitioner's 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 the appropriate district court by filing a petition for review within 30 days of the date of this decision.
Dated this _______ day of February, 2007.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Alan B. Minier, Chairman
Thomas R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts, Board Member
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary