BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
HAROLD E. CECRLE FROM )
A DECISION OF THE FREMONT COUNTY ) Docket No. 2008-106
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2008 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
ORDER OF REMAND
THIS MATTER having come before the Wyoming State Board of Equalization (State Board) upon the appeal of Harold E. Cecerle, and the State Board having reviewed the file herein, and being otherwise advised in the premises finds:
1. On April 23, 2008, the Fremont County Assessor sent a 2008 Notice of Assessment to Taxpayers, Robert H., Harold M., and Joan E. Cecrle at 12 Pinto Lane, Lander, WY 82520-9755. [County Record, Vol. I, p. 7 - 2008 Notice of Assessment].
2. The 2008 Notice of Assessment contained the following instructions concerning disputes:
In case of a dispute over values of your property, your first obligation is to discuss the problem with the assessor’s office. If not resolved, any person wishing to contest the assessment of their property shall file no later than thirty (30) days after the date of the postmark of the assessment notice, a statement with the County Assessor. The statement shall specify the reasons why the assessment is incorrect. Please contact the assessor’s office for more information on the appeal process.
[County Record, Vol. I, p. 7 - 2008 Notice of Assessment].
3. On May 8, 2008, Harold Cecrle (Cecrle) met with an employee of the Fremont County Assessor’s office. He provided a spreadsheet and “discussed his concerns, complaints and questions.” The employee advised Cecrle she was just filling in, would pass on the information, and he would hear from the appropriate person. [Cecrle letter filed with the Fremont County Clerk, June 17, 2008, County Record, Vol. I, p. 1].
4. On June 6, 2008, Cecrle met with the Fremont County Assessor to discuss the valuation of Taxpayers’ property. [Cecrle letter filed with the Fremont County Clerk, June 17, 2008, County Record, Vol. I, p. 1].
5. On June 17, 2008, Cecrle spoke with Julie Freese, Fremont County Clerk, and left documentation with her regarding Taxpayers’ property valuation. [County Record, Vol. I, pp. 1-4].
6. On June 17, 2008, the Fremont County Board of County Commissioners discussed the information submitted by Cecrle. The Commissioners stated “they would write Mr. Cecrle a letter stating the proper process and deadlines to follow for future protests.” [Board of County Commissioners June 17, 2008, meeting minutes, County Record, Vol. II, p. 16].
7. On June 26, 2008, the Chairman of the Fremont County Board of County Commissioners sent a letter to Mr. Cecrle requesting clarification as to whether Taxpayers were requesting a formal protest hearing, or providing information to the County Board. [June 26, 2008, Board of County Commissioners letter, County Record, Vol. I, p. 5].
8. By letter dated July 4, 2008, Cecrle responded stating “[y]es I would like a formal protest hearing regarding not only regarding (sic) my taxes but the method of calculating the property taxes.” [July 4, 2008, Cecrle letter, County Record, Vol. I, p. 6].
9. On July 8, 2008, the Fremont County Board of County Commissioners met and discussed Cecrle’s July 4, 2008, letter. The Board of County Commissioners minutes reflects the following:
A reply letter sent to Chairman Thompson from Harold Cecrle was reviewed. It seems Mr. Cecrle is asking for a chance to protest his property tax assessment; however, had not completed the proper paperwork in the appropriate time frame for the 2008 tax protest period. Keja Whiteman moved to grant Mr. Cecrle a hearing. Motion died for lack of a second. Chairman Thompson will correspond with Mr. Cecrle outlining the process required by law.
[Board of County Commissioners July 8 , 2008, meeting minutes, County Record, Vol. II, p. 17].
10. A letter dated July 15, 2008, to Cecrle from the Chairman of the Fremont County Board of County Commissioners stated in pertinent part:
Thank you for your letter of July 4, 2008 titled “A formal tax protest.” We did consider your letter at our July 8, 2008 meeting and voted to not grant a formal hearing. The reasoning being that your protest was filed considerably past the deadline as stated on the enclosed 2008 Notice of Assessment.
[Board of County Commissioners letter dated July 15, 2008, County Record, Vol I., p. 7].
11. On July 23, 2008, Cecrle responded to the July 15, 2008, letter from the Board of County Commissioners asserting he had followed the procedures outlined in the assessment notice, and that any delay was due to the failure of the Assessor’s Office to respond to the concerns raised and information provided to the Assessor’s Office on May 8, 2008. [Cecrle letter dated July 23, 2008, County Record, Vol. I, pp. 9-11].
12. A letter to Cecrle dated August 20, 2008, signed by Douglas L. Thompson, as Chairman of the Fremont County Board of Equalization, stated in part:
While you did contact the Fremont County Assessor’s Office for an informal conference, that conference is not the same thing as filing a formal protest. Your letter offering a formal protest was received by the Fremont County Board of Equalization after the filing deadline stated on your Notice of Assessment.
[Letter dated August 20, 2008, County Record, Vol I, pp. 12-13]. The letter advised Taxpayers of their right to appeal and provided that “since it has taken us some time to respond to your letter dated July 23, 2008, please consider today’s letter as a final decision of the Fremont County Board of Equalization.”
13. The Certificate of Record submitted to this Board by the Fremont County Clerk contains no minutes reflecting the Fremont County Board of Equalization either formally met or took any action regarding the Cecrle protest.
14. Wyoming statutes specifically establish a county board of equalization, and set out its powers and duties:
(c) The board of county commissioners of each county constitutes the county board of equalization. The county board shall meet at the office of the county commissioners at such times as necessary to perform its statutory duties, but no earlier than the fourth Tuesday in April to consider current year assessments. The county clerk shall act as clerk of the county board. The county assessor or his designee shall attend all meetings to explain or defend the assessments. The county board of equalization shall:
(I) Add to the assessment roll and value any taxable property within the county not included within the assessment roll as returned by the county assessor at its meeting in April;
(ii) Equalize the assessment and valuation of the taxable property which is assessed and valued by the county assessor;
(iii) Correct any assessment or valuation contained in and complete the assessment roll;
(iv) Hear and determine the complaint of any person relative to any property assessment or value as returned by the county assessor subject to W.S. 39-13-109(b)(I);
(v) Decide all protests heard and provide the protestant with a written decision no later than the first Monday in August.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-102(c).
15. The applicable provision of Wyoming statutes regarding appeals of a local assessment provides:
(b) Appeals. The following shall apply:
(I) The county assessor shall notify any person whose property assessment has been increased by the county board of equalization of the increase. Any person wishing to contest an assessment of his property shall file not later than thirty (30) days after the date or postmark date of the assessment schedule properly sent pursuant to W.S. 39-13-103(b)(vii), whichever is later, a statement with the county assessor specifying the reasons why the assessment is incorrect. The county assessor shall provide a copy to the county clerk as clerk of the county board of equalization…. A county board of equalization may receive evidence relative to any assessment and may require the person assessed or his agent or attorney to appear before it, be examined and produce any documents relating to the assessment. No adjustment in an assessment shall be granted to or on behalf of any person who willfully neglects or refuses to attend a meeting of a county board of equalization and be examined or answer any material question upon the board's request. Minutes of the examination shall be taken and filed with the county clerk;
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(b)(I) (emphasis added).
16. The foregoing statutory provisions clearly establish the county board of equalization, not the board of county commissioners, as the governmental entity authorized to hear and determine taxpayer appeals of local assessments.
17. The State Board has jurisdiction to review final decisions of a county board of equalization, not actions by a board of county commissioners:
(c) The state board of equalization shall perform the duties specified in article 15, section 10 of the Wyoming constitution and shall hear appeals from county boards of equalization and review final decisions of the department upon application of any interested person adversely affected, including boards of county commissioners for the purposes of this subsection, under the contested case procedures of the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act. ...
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c) (emphasis added).
18. It is apparent from the materials provided by the Fremont County Clerk the Fremont County Board of County Commissioners discussed the materials provided to it by Cecrle on two separate occasions, and corresponded with him subsequent to each discussion. Supra ¶¶ 6, 7, 9, 10. The file is devoid of any minutes reflecting the Cecrle correspondence was considered by the Fremont County Board of Equalization. The letter dated August 20, 2008, by Douglas L. Thompson, as Chairman of the Fremont County Board of Equalization, supra ¶ 12, purporting to be a decision of the Fremont County Board of Equalization, is not a reviewable decision by the Fremont County Board of Equalization on the timeliness of the Cecrle appeal or its merits, particularly in the absence of minutes reflecting a meeting of the Fremont County Board of Equalization.
19. The State Board is without jurisdiction to consider this appeal absent a final order of the Fremont County Board of Equalization. Supra ¶ 17; Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c).
THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED this matter shall be, and hereby is remanded to the Fremont County Board of Equalization for consideration and entry of a final decision.
Dated this ______ day of February, 2009.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Thomas R. Satterfield, Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts, Vice Chairman
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary