BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
TONY AND CINDY SPRIGGS FROM )
A VALUATION DECISION OF THE ) Docket No. 2006-83
FREMONT COUNTY ASSESSOR )
2005 PROPERTY VALUATION )
FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, DECISION AND ORDER
Rick L. Sollars, Western Law Associates, P.C., on behalf of Tony and Cynthia Spriggs
(Petitioners or Taxpayers).
James Whiting, Deputy Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney, on behalf of Eileen
Oakley, Fremont County Assessor (Respondent or Assessor).
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
This matter originally came before the State Board of Equalization (State Board) as an appeal
by the Fremont County Assessor from a decision of the Fremont County Board of
Equalization (County Board). The Assessor appealed the County Board decision directing
her to re-assess the Taxpayers’ property using an agricultural classification. The 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.
Neither party requested oral argument. The State Board entered a Decision and Order dated
July 13, 2006, remanding the Assessor’s appeal to the County Board for further proceedings.
Fremont County Assessor, Docket No. 2005-87, July 13, 2006, ___ WL ______ (Wyo. St.
Bd. Eq.). In response, on August 14, 2006, the County Board requested, pursuant to Rules,
Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 2, § 36, that the original appeal by Taxpayers
of the Assessor’s denial of their request for agricultural status be certified to the State Board
for its consideration as the finder of fact rather than as an intermediate level of appellate
review. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c). Compare Rules, Wyoming State Board of
Equalization, Chapter 2 and Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 3.
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). The State Board granted certification by order
dated August 24, 2006. The appeal of the Taxpayers from the Assessor’s agricultural status
denial is thus before this Board the same as an initial appeal pursuant to Rules, Wyoming
State Board of Equalization, Chapter 2.
The State Board has reviewed and carefully considered all the evidence presented at the
County Board hearing, including a tape recording of the testimony. There was no issue of
credibility of the witnesses with respect to the matters which dispose of this case, thus a
repeat of their testimony to this Board is not necessary. We have also been provided, in the
context of the Assessor’s original appeal to this Board, sufficient briefing on the relevant
issues, thus the receipt of further briefing is not required.
Within 30 days after the date or postmark date of an assessment schedule, whichever is later,
objections to local assessments must be filed with the county assessor indicating why the
assessment is incorrect. Wyo. Stat. Ann. §39-13-109(b)(i). The Taxpayers’ assessment
schedule was dated April 25, 2005. Taxpayers’ protests were filed with the County Assessor
on May 5 and May 19, 2005. The Assessor’s denial of agricultural status was dated May 18,
2005. The Taxpayers’ appeal is timely.
CONTENTIONS AND ISSUES
Taxpayers assert the County Assessor improperly denied agricultural valuation in 2005 for
their property. We affirm the Assessor’s denial of agricultural status.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Tony and Cynthia Spriggs own and reside on 19.23 acres at 2171 North 2nd Street
north of Lander in Fremont County, Wyoming. The property is formerly known as Lot 4 of
the O’Brien Subdivision in Fremont County, Wyoming. [Board Record, Exhibit A, p. 12].
2. Eileen Oakley is the Fremont County Assessor. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
3. On April 25, 2005, the Assessor sent Taxpayers an Assessment Schedule listing the
total market value of their property as $387,000. Of this total, $134,100 was for the
Taxpayers’ land which is the value at issue in these proceedings. [Board Record, Exhibit A,
4. Tony and Cynthia Spriggs applied for agricultural classification for their property on
May 9, 2005. [Board Record, Exhibit P, pp. 70-81].
5. On May 18, 2005, the Assessor denied the application for agricultural classification
stating the information furnished did not meet the definition for agricultural land as set forth
in the Wyoming statutes and rules. The Assessor listed the following reasons for the denial:
Property has characteristics of a subdivision or is in transition for further
Primary purpose or use of the land is other than producing a marketable
agricultural product, i.e. Home site, cabin site, or dude ranch facilities.
Activities on the land, which appear agricultural in nature, do not by
themselves qualify the land for agricultural assessment.
[Board Record, Exhibit P, p. 69].
6. The denial letter afforded Taxpayers the opportunity to submit additional information
to the Assessor’s office which might affect the classification. If the Taxpayers disagreed
with the Assessor’s decision, they were advised they could file a protest with the County
Board within 30 days of the assessment notice. [Board Record, Exhibit P, p. 69].
7. The Taxpayers filed two Statements To Contest 2005 Property Tax Assessment. The
first, filed on May 5, 2005, stated: “[P]roperty not part of a subdivision. We feel our property
should be re-evaluated. We have vacated our subdivision and still maintain protective and
restrictive covenants.” The second, filed on May 19, 2005, stated: “[w]e feel our property
is considered agricultural. We rase (sic) hay, pasture livestock and sell the hay crop. We
should be taxed as irrigated land, ag use.” [Board Record, pp. 103-106].
8. Mr. Spriggs testified on behalf of the Taxpayers. He testified he was protesting the
denial of agricultural status for their land under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103. He asserted
the legislature had indicated land would qualify for agricultural if each of the following
requirements were met: (1) the land is presently used and employed for agricultural purpose;
(2) the land is not part of a platted subdivision; and (3) the owner of the land had derived not
less than $500 from agricultural products during the preceding year. [Board Record, Hearing
9. Mr. Spriggs provided copies of receipts from Tom Reed for leasing land from October
21, 2004, to December 1, 2004, for $549, and from hay sales totaling $3,637.50. It was his
opinion the Taxpayers met the letter of the law by having receipts for more than $500.
[Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit P, pp. 72-81].
10. Mr. Spriggs testified he tried to raise as much hay as possible by using good
management practices such as aeration and fertilization. The production amount varied from
year to year. Their best year produced 52 tons of hay. The average production is 48 tons of
hay per year. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
11. Mr. Spriggs testified he used his land for hay production and leased pasture to Tommy
Reed. The Taxpayers’ total receipts were over $500. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
12. The Taxpayers also own another parcel of land south of Coon Creek where they have
a tractor shed, corals, a stack yard and hay fields. This property was classified as agricultural
after a previous protest. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
13. Mr. Spriggs testified the property south of his land has a house, shop and barn and is
owned by Richard Bird. Mr. Bird has some horses and raises hay. The Bird property is
classified as agricultural. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
14. Mr. Spriggs testified their land was not part of a subdivision. The Board of County
Commissioners vacated the subdivision the prior year. Since the Taxpayers are not part of
a subdivision, produce the required amount of income from hay sales, and consistently used
their land for forage, they feel they qualify for agricultural status. [Board Record, Hearing
15. Eileen Oakley testified she was the Fremont County Assessor and was certified as a
property tax appraiser by the Department of Revenue (Department). [Board Record, Hearing
16. The Assessor presented a complete description of the Taxpayers’ property. The
market value of the property was determined by using the CAMA (Computer Assisted Mass
Appraisal) system authorized by the Department. [Board Record, Exhibit B, p. 13]. Only
the denial of agricultural classification was in dispute. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 82].
17. The Assessor testified to qualify for agricultural classification a property must meet
the conditions of the statutes and rules that govern agricultural classification. The statutes
outline the conditions and Chapter 10 of the Department’s Rules further define the statutes.
[Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit I, pp. 39-42].
18. The Assessor testified in order to meet agricultural classification there were four
qualifications, all of which must be met. The initial qualification is that the land be used to
produce forage. There were, however, other qualifiers. The Assessor must consider that
certain activities which appear to be agricultural in nature do not by themselves qualify land
for the agricultural classification. The Assessor must consider all requirements, not just the
appearance of the land. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
19. The Assessor testified she must consider whether the land is part of a platted
subdivision. The Assessor conceded the Board of County Commissioners had vacated the
O’Brien Subdivision but believed the vacation contravened the intent of the statutes on
subdivisions. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
20. The Assessor testified the parcels in the O’Brien Subdivision were required to be
platted at the time they were formed; and those parcels would be required to be platted if they
were formed today. [Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit K, p. 42].
21. The Assessor testified the definition of non-agricultural land in the Department’s
Rules, Chapter 10(c)(ii), stated: “[l]and in active transition from agricultural use to
residential, commercial or industrial use, which includes creation or division of a tract, parcel
or other unit of land for the purpose of sale or development for such use” shall be non-agricultural. [Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit I, p. 39].
22. The Assessor testified the owners of the O’Brien Subdivision lots waited until the
subdivision was fully developed to begin the process of vacation. These lots were sold as
residential lots and the original restrictive covenants’ purpose was to ensure use of the
property for attractive country living, residential purposes only. The restrictive covenants
allowed some animals but that use was regulated by the Architectural Control Committee.
[Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit D, pp. 15-20]. Amended restrictive covenants, filed
with the Fremont County Clerk after the vacation of the subdivision, changed the wording
of the original restrictive covenants minimally and added the word “agricultural” to the
permitted uses. The revised restrictive covenants still gave the Architectural Control
Committee control over the use of the land. [Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit F, pp. 27-36].
23. The Assessor testified the statute and rules which address agricultural land require it
be used or employed primarily in an agricultural operation, where primarily means chiefly
or the first importance. It was her opinion the Taxpayers’ land was defined by the restrictive
covenants as residential, with animal and agricultural use being limited by the Architectural
Control Committee. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
24. The Assessor stated the third qualification she must consider was whether the owner
of the land derived annual gross revenue of not less than $500. She conceded the Taxpayers
presented information that they sold more than $500 worth of agricultural products. [Board
Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit P, pp. 72-81].
25. The fourth qualification for agricultural status was quoted by the Assessor from the
statute. “The land has been used or employed, consistent with the land’s size, location and
capability to produce as defined by the department rules and the mapping and agricultural
manual published by the department, primarily in the agricultural operation...,” where
primarily means chiefly or of the first importance. The Assessor pointed out the Taxpayers’
own covenants established that the land was residential with animals and agricultural use
being limited. Therefore, the Assessor concluded the land’s primary use was residential.
The parcel had significant residential improvements as described in the CAMA printouts.
[Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit B, p. 13].
26. The Assessor testified she applied the Department’s Rules equally and uniformly.
Regardless of the fact that people feel they have used property as best they can and produced
as much as they can, the land had to meet the standards of a true agricultural operation to
assess everyone equally. [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
27. The Assessor prepared a quantitative analysis to determine whether the Taxpayers had
used their land consistent with the land’s capability to produce. [Board Record, Exhibit R,
pp. 90-93]. She first subtracted two acres from the Taxpayers’ total acreage of 19.23 acres,
in order to account for a residential farmstead as required by the Department’s Rules. Rules,
Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, § 3(c)(iv). [Board Record, Exhibit I, pp. 37-40]. She determined a productive capacity for the remaining 17.23 acres using elements of
the methods prescribed by the Department for valuation of all agricultural lands. [Board
Record, Exhibit R, p. 91].
28. The Assessor used the Lander Area Soil Survey to determine the land soil type of the
Taxpayers’ property. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 91; Exhibit J, p. 41]. She overlaid
ownership information on the soil survey map to do so. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 91;
Exhibit J, p. 41; Exhibit K, p. 42].
29. The Assessor determined the productive value of the Taxpayers’ soil type using the
2005 Ag Land Valuation Study prepared by the Department. [Board Record, Exhibit M, pp.
44-59]. The Assessor determined: (1) the pertinent Land Resource Area, and (2) the
productive class of the land. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 91; Exhibit L, p.43]. These
numbers were then translated into a standard productive range for irrigated crop land,
expressed in tons of hay per acre. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 91; Exhibit M, p. 51]. The
resulting range of production for the Taxpayers’ property was from three to four tons per
acre. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 102; Exhibit M, p. 51]. Using the reference chart, those
values appear for Land Resource Area 4-5, Class III. [Board Record, Exhibit M, p. 51].
30. The Assessor next multiplied the Taxpayers’ total acreage (exclusive of farmstead),
or 17.23 acres, times the low end of expected production per acre of three tons per acre, to
reach an expected total production of 50 tons. [Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 91]. She then
multiplied this expected total tonnage by a low revenue estimate of $70 per ton of hay, and
rounded down to reach an expected total of $3,500 revenue for the Taxpayers’ property.
[Board Record, Exhibit R, p. 91]. The Assessor also performed a calculation for the
Taxpayers’ other parcel, supra, ¶ 12, and determined an estimated income of $3,500 for the
parcel. [Board Record, Exhibit R. p. 92].
31. Finally, the Assessor compared the expected revenue from both of the Taxpayers’
parcels of $7,000, prepared using low-end estimates at each step, with the Taxpayers’ actual
revenue of $4,186.50. Since the Taxpayers’ hay sale receipts did not indicate which of the
Taxpayers’ two parcels the hay came from, she concluded the Taxpayers failed to achieve
the low-end revenue estimate and were not using their lands consistent with its capability to
produce. [Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit R, pp. 91-92].
32. The Assessor testified it appeared a part of the production was used by the Taxpayers
for horses kept as a hobby. Under Chapter 10, Section 3(ii)(B)(II), of the Department’s
Rules “[g]razing on land by any animal kept as a hobby will not be considered
agricultural....” When hobby animals are using part of the production it reduces marketable
production below the land’s capacity to produce, and does not qualify as agricultural land.
[Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit I, p. 38].
33. During the hearing, the Mr. Spriggs took issue with the Assessor concerning horses
being on the parcel. “I was not denied agricultural status because of hobby horses, I was
denied for other reasons, what do horses have to do with my classification? There is horse
use in the winter time...why are horses an issue in this matter?” The Taxpayer testified he
kept horses near the house during the winter because it was easier to feed them by the house.
[Board Record, Hearing Tape].
34. The Assessor reviewed the records of other small acreage parcels between 5 and 20
acres. The Assessor stated only five small acreage parcels had an agricultural value. There
were 247 other small acreage parcels valued as residential. The Assessor advised that her
office is receiving more and more applications for agricultural use. Agricultural status is
considered at the time of application. Her office has consistently and uniformly valued these
small parcels as residential. The Bird property was evaluated at the time of application and
is not in a subdivision. [Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibits N, O, pp. 60-68].
35. In conclusion the Assessor argued that while the Taxpayers’ parcel had activities
which appeared to be agricultural, the Taxpayers did not meet all of the requirements for
agricultural classification. The land was agricultural prior to being divided into tracts or
parcels, but was sold primarily for residential use. Therefore, the Taxpayers’ land was
correctly valued as residential land. [Board Record, Hearing Tape; Exhibit R, p. 86].
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW: PRINCIPLES OF LAW
36. The Board is required to “[d]ecide all questions that may arise with reference to the
construction of any statute affecting the assessment, levy and collection of taxes, in
accordance with the rules, regulations, orders and instructions prescribed by the department.”
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c)(iv).
37. The Board’s Rules provide:
[T]he Petitioner shall have the burden of going forward and the ultimate
burden of persuasion, which burden shall be met by a preponderance of the
Rules, Wyoming State Board of Equalization, Chapter 2 § 20.
38. The Board, in interpreting a statute, follows the same guidelines as a court:
We read the text of the statute and pay attention to its internal structure and the
functional relationship between the parts and the whole. We make the
determination as to meaning, that is, whether the statute’s meaning is subject
to varying interpretations. If we determine that the meaning is not subject to
varying interpretations, that may end the exercise, although we may resort to
extrinsic aids to interpretation, such as legislative history if available and rules
of construction, to confirm the determination. On the other hand, if we
determine the meaning is subject to varying interpretations, we must resort to
available extrinsic aids.
General Chemical v. Unemployment Ins. Comm’n, 902 P.2d 716, 718 (Wyo. 1995).
‘Determining the lawmakers’ intent is our primary focus when we interpret
statutes. Initially, we make an inquiry respecting the ordinary and obvious
meaning of the words employed according to their arrangement and
connection. We construe together all parts of the statute in pari materia,
giving effect to each word, clause, and sentence so that no part will be
inoperative or superfluous. We will not construe statutes in a manner which
renders any portion meaningless or produces absurd results.’ In re WJH, 2001
WY 54, ¶ 7, 24 P.3d 1147, ¶ 7 (Wyo. 2001).
TPJ v. State, 2003 WY 49, ¶ 11, 66 P.3d 710, 713 (Wyo. 2003).
39. The Board considers the omission of certain words intentional on the part of the
Legislature, and we may not add omitted words. “[O]mission of words from a statute is
considered to be an intentional act by the legislature, and this court will not read words into
a statute when the legislature has chosen not to include them.” BP America Production Co.
v. Department of Revenue, 2005 WY 60 ¶ 22, 112 P.3d 596, 607 (Wyo. 2005), quoting
Merrill v. Jansma, 2004 WY 26, ¶ 29, 86 P.3d 270, 285 (Wyo. 2004). See also Parker v.
Artery, 889 P.2d 520 (Wyo. 1995); Fullmer v. Wyoming Employment Security Comm’n., 858
P.2d 1122 (Wyo. 1993). The language which appears in one section of a statute but not
another, will not be read into the section where it is absent. Matter of Adoption of Voss, 550
P.2d 481 (Wyo. 1976).
40. It is an elementary rule of statutory interpretation that all portions of an act must be
read in pari materia, and every word, clause and sentence of it must be considered so that
no part will be inoperative or superfluous. Also applicable is the oft-repeated rule it must be
presumed the Legislature did not intend futile things. Hamlin v. Transcon Lines, 701 P.2d
1139, 1142 (Wyo. 1985).
41. The issue raised by the Taxpayers concerns the Assessor’s denial of agricultural
classification for their land.
42. The Wyoming Constitution, article 15, § 11(b) provides in pertinent part: “[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 conditions.”
43. The classification of land as agricultural requires fulfilment of four statutory
(x)The following shall apply to agricultural land:
(A) The department 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)
of this paragraph. 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 average yields of lands of the
same classification under normal conditions;
(B) Contiguous or noncontiguous parcels of land under one (1)
operation owned or leased shall qualify for classification as agricultural land
if the land meets each of the following qualifications:
(I) The land is presently being used and employed for an
(II) The land is not part of a platted subdivision;
(III) If the land is not leased land, the owner of the land has
derived annual gross revenues of not less than five hundred
dollars ($500.00) from the marketing of agricultural products, or
if the land is leased land the lessee has derived annual gross
revenues of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) from
the marketing of agricultural products; and
(IV) The land has been used or employed, consistent with the
land's size, location and capability to produce as defined by
department rules and the mapping and agricultural manual
published by the department, primarily in an agricultural
operation, or the land does not meet this requirement and the
requirement of subdivision (III) of this subparagraph because
(1) Experiences an intervening cause of production
failure beyond its control;
(2) Causes a marketing delay for economic advantage;
(3) Participates in a bona fide conservation program, in
which case proof by an affidavit showing qualification in a
previous year shall suffice; or
(4) Has planted a crop that will not yield an income in the
(C)If needed, the county assessor may require the producer to
provide a sworn affidavit affirming that the land meets the requirements of this
paragraph. When deemed necessary, the county assessor may further require
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x) (emphasis added).
44. 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, except as provided by law for specific property, 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).
45. A county assessor has a corresponding duty to annually value property within the
assessor’s county, and in doing so 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).
46. The Department Rules contain this definition of “agricultural land:”
(a) "Agricultural land" means contiguous or noncontiguous parcels of land
presently being used and employed for the primary purpose of providing gross
revenue from agricultural or horticultural use or any combination thereof
unless part of a platted subdivision. Agricultural land shall generally include
land that is actively farmed, ranched or is used to raise timber for timber
products to obtain a fair rate of return.
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, § 3(a).
47. The Department Rules also contain a definition of “non-agricultural lands.”
(c) "Non-agricultural lands" shall include but not be limited to lands as
described in the State of Wyoming market valuation of Residential,
Commercial and Industrial Lands as published by the Department of Revenue,
Ad Valorem Tax Division:
(i) Lands classified within neighborhood boundaries as
residential, commercial, industrial or rural, whether vacant or
(ii) Lands in active transition from agricultural use to
residential, commercial or industrial use, which includes
creation or division of a tract, parcel or other unit of land for the
purpose of sale or development for such use.
(iii) Residential subdivision lands developed with either
predetermined floor plans and elevations or custom buildings;
(iv) Farmsteads with lands occupied by buildings which
constitute the homesite including one or more acres of land used
in direct connection with the homesite;
* * *
(x) Parcels of land forty (40) acres or less unless the
landowner provides proof that such land should otherwise be
classified as agricultural land.
(xi) Land zoned for purposes, which exclude agricultural
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, § 3(c).
48. Administrative rules have the force and effect of law. Wyo. Dep’t of Revenue v.
Union Pacific Railroad Co., 2003 WY 54, ¶ 18, 67 P.3d 1176, 1184 (Wyo. 2003); Painter
v. Abels, 998 P.2d 931, 939 (Wyo. 2000).
49. With regard to appeals of property tax matters, the Wyoming Supreme Court has
The Department’s valuations for state-assessed property are
presumed valid, accurate, and correct. This presumption can
only be overcome by credible evidence to the contrary. In the
absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that the
officials charged with establishing value exercised honest
judgement in accordance with the applicable rules, regulations,
and other directives that have passed public scrutiny, either
through legislative enactment or agency rule-making, or both.
The petitioner has the initial burden to present sufficient credible
evidence to overcome the presumption, and a mere difference of
opinion as to value is not sufficient. If the petitioner
successfully overcomes the presumption, then the Board is
required to equally weigh the evidence of all parties and
measure it against the appropriate burden of proof. Once the
presumption is successfully overcome, the burden of going
forward shifts to the DOR to defend its valuation. The
petitioner, however, by challenging the valuation, bears the
ultimate burden of persuasion to prove by a preponderance of
the evidence that the valuation was not derived in accordance
with the required constitutional and statutory requirements for
valuing state-assessed property….
Colorado Interstate Gas Company v. Wyoming Department of
Revenue, 2001 WY 34, ¶¶ 9-11, 20 P.3d 528, ¶¶ 9-11 (Wyo.
2001) (citations omitted).
Airtouch Communications, Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, 2003 WY 114, ¶ 12, 76
P.3d 342, 348 (Wyo. 2003).
Thunder Basin Coal Co. v. Campbell County, Wyoming Assessor, 2006 WY 44, ¶ 13, 132
P.3d 801, 806 (Wyo. 2006). This presumption applies equally to an assessor’s valuation of
locally assessed property. Id. at 806 n.1.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW - APPLICATION OF PRINCIPLES OF LAW
50. We initially note that the Taxpayers have ignored the provision of the Department’s
Rules placing an additional burden on the landowners who seek agricultural classification
for a parcel of forty acres or less. Those landowners must provide proof that a parcel of that
size should be classified agricultural. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10,
§ 3(c)(x). Supra, ¶ 44. This burden applies whether or not the landowner chooses to appeal
an assessor’s determination of agricultural classification.
A. Present Use for Agricultural Purpose
51. The first statutory requirement to qualify for agricultural valuation is the present use
and employment of the land for an agricultural purpose. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(I). “Agricultural purpose” is defined by statute:
"Agricultural purpose," as used in W.S. 39-13-103(b)(x), means the following
land uses when conducted consistent with the land's capability to produce:
(A) Cultivation of the soil for production of crops; or
(B) Production of timber products or grasses for forage; or
(C) Rearing, feeding, grazing or management of livestock.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-101(a)(viii).
52. In this case, the Taxpayers presented testimony they “produce hay and lease the land
to Tommy Reed to pasture his cows and bulls in the fall.” [Board Record, Hearing Tape].
The Taxpayers’ lease of their land for grazing and their production of hay for sale are
agricultural purposes and meet the requirement of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(I).
B. Not Part of Platted Subdivision
53. The second statutory requirement for agricultural classification is that the land “is not
part of a platted subdivision.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(II). The Department’s
Rules define “platted subdivision” as follows:
Platted subdivision” [sic] means for the purpose of Chapter 13 of Title 39, the
creation of a lot, parcel, or other unit of land; or division of a lot, parcel, or
other unit of land into one or more parts that has received approval from the
governing body in whose jurisdiction the property resides at the time of
creation and is recorded in the records of the county clerk.
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, § 3(b). We note that of the parties
addressed this Department Rule.
54. The exhibits and testimony of record, and the parties respective briefs do not
adequately address the interpretation and application of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(II) nor the Department Rule. This lack of discussion and analysis however,
based on our conclusions with regard to the other requirements for agricultural classification,
does not prevent a final decision in this matter. Infra ¶¶ 56-61.
C. Minimum Annual Gross Revenues
55. The third requirement to qualify for agricultural valuation is that the owner establish
the statutory minimum gross revenues were derived from agricultural use of the property.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(III). The evidence related to the third requirement
consists of Petitioners’ receipts, showing a gross income of approximately $4,186.50 for Tax
Year 2004 from the lease of their property for a portion of the year and from the sale of hay.
The $549 received for leasing pasture is not sufficient, standing alone, to meet the
requirement. If land is leased, the lessee must derive an annual gross revenue of not less than
$1,000 from the sale of agricultural products. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(III). The
Board Record contains no information from Mr. Reed concerning the revenue from his
leasing the pasture. Since the burden of demonstrating compliance with the statute rests with
the Taxpayers, and that burden has not been met, the lease cannot be counted toward the
satisfaction of the Taxpayers’ burden. The sale of hay for $3,637.50, however, exceeds the
minimum income requirements set by the legislature for agricultural valuation, and we accept
it as meeting the minimum gross revenues requirement set by the legislature for agricultural
D. Use Consistent With Size, Location and Capability to Produce Primarily in an
56. The Wyoming Constitution grants favorable treatment to agricultural and grazing
lands by providing they “shall be valued according to the capability of the land to produce
agricultural products under normal conditions.” Wyo. Const. art. 15 § 11(b). The statutory
definition of agricultural purpose echoes this language, limiting those purposes to being
“consistent with the land’s capability to produce.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-101(a)(viii).
Land can only qualify for agricultural classification if it meets a fourth and related statutory
test of being “used or employed, consistent with the land’s size, location and capability to
produce as defined by department rules and the mapping and agricultural manual published
by the department, primarily in an agricultural operation….” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV). The qualifying phrase, “consistent with the land’s capability to produce,”
appears repeatedly in the Department’s Rules. E.g., Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue,
Chapter 10, §§ 3(a)(i), 3(a)(ii), 3(a)(ii)(B), 3(a)(ii)(B)(II), 3(a)(ii)(B)(III), 3(a)(ii)(B)(IV).
57. The pertinent definition of “consistent” is “in agreement or harmony; in accord;
compatible.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition (2001), p. 311. The
fourth statutory test for agricultural classification requires use of the land in an actual
agricultural operation, measured generally by the same constitutional standard providing
favorable property tax treatment – the land’s capability to produce. The State Board
concludes the intent of the legislature was to deny agricultural classification to lands
principally employed in other uses, such as residential or being held for future residential
development, yet generating enough agricultural revenue to meet the minimum gross revenue
standards of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(III).
58. The statute expressly addresses the problem that “normal conditions” may not prevail
in any given assessment year. Unusual conditions may interfere with an assessor’s ability
to determine whether the land is being used consistent with its capability to produce. An
agricultural producer may accordingly be excused from compliance with the fourth
requirement for agricultural classification, and the minimum gross revenue requirement of
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(III), if it:
(1) Experiences an intervening cause of production failure beyond its control;
(2) Causes a marketing delay for economic advantage;
(3) Participates in a bona fide conservation program, in which case proof by
affidavit showing qualification in a previous year shall suffice; or
(4) Has planted a crop that will not yield an income in the tax year.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV); see Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue,
Chapter 10, § 3(a)(ii)(A). The Taxpayers in this case offered no evidence to support any
such excuse from compliance with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV).
59. The Assessor prepared a calculation to quantify her view that the Taxpayers did not
meet this requirement. She first excluded two acres from the Taxpayers’ parcel to account
for their residence, as required by the Department’s Rules and consistent with her practice
for other agricultural land in Fremont County. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue,
Chapter 10, § 3(c)(iv). She then calculated a minimum production value for the remaining
acres, which she rounded down to $3,500. She also calculated a minimum production value
of $3,500 for the Taxpayers’ other parcel of land. Supra, ¶¶ 28, 29, 30, 31. This calculation
is consistent with statutory requirements of the Department’s mapping and agricultural
manual, which we have described in detail in other cases arising from Fremont County. E.g.,
Fremont County Assessor (Dechert Property), Docket No. 2004-125, February 4, 2005, 2005
WL 301141 (Wyo. St. Bd. Eq.). Finally, she compared these minimum values against the
income actually reported by the Taxpayers, of $4,186.50. Based on her comparison, the
Assessor concluded the Taxpayers had not employed their land consistent with its capability
to produce. Supra, ¶ 31. In fact, the comparison is even less favorable to the Taxpayers,
since the Assessor could not properly include the $549 lease in total income. The Taxpayers
also failed to demonstrate what portion of their income was attributable to production from
2171 North 2nd Street.
60. While the Taxpayers might argue their total revenue was enough to cover the
minimum production value for the parcel, the Department’s Rule required them to provide
specific proof with respect to the parcel for which they seek agricultural classification.
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 10, § 3(c)(x). A parcel of less than forty
acres is not agricultural unless the landowners provide proof pertaining to the parcel.
Taxpayers failed to meet their burden of proof and persuasion in this case.
61. The Assessor’s calculation may not be the only approach to determining whether the
use of a particular property is consistent with its capability to produce, but her approach has
obvious virtues. It relies on measurable criteria. The criteria tie to the Assessor’s uniformly
enforced policy concerning the size of the residential portion of agricultural lands in her
county. The criteria also tie to the same measures of productivity that the Department uses
to determine taxable value. They also tie to revenues that a taxpayer can readily document.
These objectively verifiable measures should enable a county assessor and a taxpayer to
readily reach a common understanding about whether a taxpayer’s lands qualify for
62. Both the Taxpayers and the Assessor referred to the restrictive covenants in this
matter. If the restrictive covenants bear in any way on the fourth statutory test, it can only
be as evidence to determine whether the lands are in use “primarily in an agricultural
operation.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(x)(B)(IV). The State Board doubts that an
examination of the restrictive covenants supports the Taxpayers’ claim.
63. In their present form, we would be inclined to characterize the covenants as
maintaining a residential character for the Taxpayers’ and the seven other properties of the
O’Brien Subdivision, with minor accommodation for agricultural activity. For example, the
covenants empower the Architectural Control Committee to determine the number and type
of livestock which may be kept on any given property. [Board Record, Exhibit F, Covenants,
Section V, p. 29]. On its face, this provision promotes residential use, restricts agricultural
use, and unavoidably acts as a limit on the land’s capability to produce. We are skeptical that
land which is truly devoted primarily to agricultural purposes can be encumbered by
64. In their brief, the Taxpayers complain that “land in the vicinity of [Taxpayers’] land
that was of comparable or smaller size had received the agricultural classification….” [Brief,
pp. 12-13]. As a matter of law, any disparity can be of no concern if the other tracts properly
qualify as agricultural. In fact, the Taxpayers are plainly seeking to create a disparity
between themselves and other taxpayers who have located in large lot subdivisions in
Fremont County. The sole question for consideration is whether the Taxpayers qualify for
65. The Taxpayers, in summary, have not fulfilled their burden of proof or ultimate
burden of persuasion that the property in question qualifies for agricultural status.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED the decision of the Fremont County
Assessor denying the Taxpayers’ request for agricultural classification of the property at
issue is affirmed.
31st day of August, 2006.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Alan B. Minier, Chairman
Thomas R. Satterfield, Vice-Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts, Board Member
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary