BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPEAL OF )
MELANIE MCGLOTHLIN FROM )
A DECISION OF THE PARK COUNTY ) Docket No. 2008-93
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION - 2008 )
PROPERTY VALUATION )
DECISION AND ORDER
Melanie McGlothlin (Taxpayer) appeared pro se.
Doug Brandt, Park County Assessor (Assessor).
This is an appeal from a decision of the Park County Board of Equalization (County Board) affirming the Assessor’s valuation of Taxpayer’s property for 2008 tax purposes. Taxpayer’s Notice of Appeal was filed with the State Board effective August 20, 2008. Taxpayer and the Assessor filed briefs as allowed by the October 13, 2008, State Board’s Briefing Order. Taxpayer requested oral argument.
The State Board of Equalization (State Board), comprised of Thomas R. Satterfield, Chairman, and Thomas D. Roberts, Vice-Chairman, considered the parties’ briefs, the hearing record, and the decision of the County Board. The State Board heard oral argument on January 12, 2009.
We evaluate Taxpayer’s appeal of the County Board decision against our standard of review, which is whether the decision 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.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COUNTY BOARD
The County Board conducted a hearing on July 22, 2008, at which the Taxpayer and Assessor each testified and presented exhibits. The County Board entered its Final Decision on July 29, 2008, affirming the Assessor’s 2008 fair market value for Taxpayer’s property. [County Board Record, pp. 78-87].
The State Board is required to “hear appeals from county boards of equalization.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c). Taxpayer filed a timely appeal of the County Board decision with the State Board effective August 20, 2008. 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 with 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), (currently Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102.1(c)).
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:
When [a person] challenges a [county board]'s findings of fact and both parties submitted evidence at the contested case hearing, we examine the entire record to determine if the [county board]'s findings are supported by substantial evidence. Colorado Interstate Gas Co. v. Wyoming Department of Revenue, 2001 WY 34, ¶ 8, 20 P.3d 528, 530 (Wyo.2001); RT Commc'ns, Inc. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 11 P.3d 915, 920 (Wyo.2000). If the [county board]'s findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the [county board] and will uphold the factual findings on appeal. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence; it is evidence that a reasonable mind might accept in support of the conclusions of the agency.” Id.
Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Department of Revenue, 2007 WY 79, ¶ 9, 158 P.3d 131, 134 (Wyo. 2007).
We review the findings of ultimate fact of a county board of equalization de novo:
“When an agency’s determinations contain elements of law and fact, we do not treat them with the deference we reserve for findings of basic fact. When reviewing an ‘ultimate fact,’ we separate the factual and legal aspects of the finding to determine whether the correct rule of law has been properly applied to the facts. We do not defer to the agency’s ultimate factual finding if there is an error in either stating or applying the law.” Basin Elec. Power Co-op., Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, State of Wyo., 970 P.2d 841, 850-51 (Wyo. 1998)(citations omitted).
Britt v. Fremont County Assessor, 2006 WY 10, ¶ 17, 126 P.3d 117, 123 (Wyo. 2006).
We must also apply this “arbitrary and capricious” standard:
Even if sufficient evidence is found to support the agency’s decision under the substantial evidence test, this [Board] is also required to apply the arbitrary-and-capricious standard as a “safety net” to catch other agency action which might have violated the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act. Decker v. Wyoming Medical Comm’n, 2005 WY 160, ¶ 24, 124 P.3d 686, 694 (Wyo. 2005). “Under the umbrella of arbitrary and capricious actions would fall potential mistakes such as inconsistent or incomplete findings of fact or any violation of due process.” Id. (quoting Padilla v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Comp. Div., 2004 WY 10, ¶ 6, 84 P.3d 960, 962 (Wyo. 2004)).
State ex rel. Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Comp. Div. v. Madeley, 2006 WY 63, ¶ 8, 134 P.3d 281, 284 (Wyo. 2006).
Taxpayer argues the County Board erred in accepting the Assessor’s valuation in light of the evidence presented to support her assertion her property in Park County is “landlocked,” and therefore has zero value. Taxpayer, in order to prevail, must establish the County Board decision is not supported by substantial evidence, and/or the County Board acted arbitrarily and capriciously in affirming the Assessor’s value for 2008 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 County Board decision.
1. Taxpayer owns residential property at 5166 Highway 14A, Park County, Wyoming, more particularly described as Part of Heart Mountain Unit E, or Part of Lot 41M lying easterly of Garland Canal, Township 54, Range 100. [County Board Record, pp. 17, 46].
2. Taxpayer moved onto the property at issue in 1987. She has apparently been accessing the property using the Garland Canal road. It also appears Taxpayer may have a temporary easement along the east side of the Garland Canal pursuant to the settlement agreement which resulted in the easement on the west side of the canal. [County Board Record, pp. 59-60, 70; Audio Recording of Hearing, 13:45].
3. The Assessor sent Taxpayer a Notice of Assessment for the 2008 tax year on April 24, 2008, indicating a fair market value of $71,288 for Taxpayer’s property. [County Board Record, pp. 17, 46].
4. Taxpayer, on May 28, 2008, filed an official appeal with the County Board. [County Board Record, pp. 2-32]. The County Board held a hearing on Taxpayer’s appeal on July 22, 2008. [County Board Record, Audio Recording of Hearing].
5. Taxpayer, and any subsequent owner of Taxpayer’s property, has, as recorded with the Park County Clerk, a defined easement, the easterly boundary of which is the waterline on the west side of the Garland Canal. The easement permits construction of a roadway on the west side of the canal, as well as location of abutments for a foot or motor vehicle bridge, or both, spanning the Garland Canal from the easement on the west side of the canal to Taxpayer’s property on the east side of the canal. [County Board Record, pp. 54-56; Audio Recording of Hearing, 13:10-13:20, 31:25-31:38, 56:00-57:09].
6. Taxpayer has permission to construct a bridge across the Garland Canal to her property. No special use permit from the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, is necessary since an easement already exists on private land. A bridge across the Bureau of Reclamation canal needs only a letter of consent from the manager of the Shoshone Irrigation District with the condition the bridge does not interfere with the operation of the canal, and construction activities are coordinated with the District. [County Board Record, pp. 57-58, 63-64; Audio Recording of Hearing, 32:50-35.00, 58:00-59:35].
7. The Assessor testified he has been the Park County Assessor since 1990. [County Board Record, Audio Recording of Hearing, 37:50].
8. The Assessor utilized the state-approved computer assisted mass appraisal system (CAMA) as well as a review of comparable properties to value Taxpayer’s property. [County Board Record, pp. 47-51; Audio Recording of Hearing, 43:55-49:30].
9. The Assessor, for both the 2007 and 2008 tax years, reduced the fair market value of Taxpayer’s land to $35,000 to compensate for the fact a bridge across the canal is necessary to access her property from the easement on the west side of the canal. [County Board Record, Audio Recording of Hearing, 49:40-51:40].
10. The Assessor asserted Taxpayer’s property is not landlocked. [County Board Record, Audio Recording of Hearing, 1:00:04].
DISCUSSION OF ISSUES AND APPLICABLE LAW
11. The Wyoming Constitution, article 15 § 11, requires “[a]ll taxation shall be equal and uniform within each class of property. The legislature shall prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation of taxation of all property, real and personal.”
12. 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. v. Dept. of Revenue, 970 P.2d. 841, 852 (Wyo. 1998).
13. 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).
14. 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); See Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Ch. 9 § 4(f.).
15. 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).
16. 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). The Department is required to “[p]rescribe the system of establishing the fair market value of all property valued for property taxation to ensure that all property within a class is uniformly valued.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-102(c)(xv).
17. 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). The Department has promulgated rules prescribing the methods for valuing property. The acceptable methods include a sales comparison approach, a cost approach, and 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.)–(d.).
18. In valuing real property and improvements for tax purposes, the assessor must take into consideration depreciation. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9 § 6(b.)(iv.). Depreciation is defined as:
(d.)"Depreciation" means a loss of utility and hence value from any cause. Depreciation may take the form of physical depreciation, functional obsolescence, or economic obsolescence.
(i.) "Physical Depreciation" means the physical deterioration as evidenced by wear and tear, decay or depletion of the property.
(ii.) "Functional Obsolescence" means the impairment of functional capacity or efficiency, which reflects a loss in value brought about by such factors as defects, deficiencies, or super adequacies, which affect the property item itself or its relation with other items comprising a larger property.
(iii.) "Economic Obsolescence" means impairment of desirability or useful life arising from factors external to the property, such as economic forces or environmental changes which affect supply-demand relationships in the market. The methods to measure economic obsolescence may include, but are not limited to:
(A.) Capitalization of the income or rent loss attributable to the negative influence;
(B.) Comparison of sales of similar properties which are subject to the negative influence with others which are not.
Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9 § 4(d.).
19. An assessor is also required to take into consideration appreciation. Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9 § 6(b.)(iii.). Appreciation is defined as “an increase in value due to an increase in cost to reproduce, value over the cost, or value at some specified earlier point in time, brought about by greater demand, improved economic conditions, increasing price levels, reversal of depreciating environmental trends, or other factors as defined in the market.” Rules, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Chapter 9 § 6(b.)(v.)(A.).
20. 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).
21. An assessor’s valuation is presumed valid, accurate, and correct. Teton Valley Ranch v. State Board of Equalization, 735 P.2d 107, 113 (Wyo. 1987). This presumption survives until overturned by credible evidence. Id.; Britt v. Fremont County Assessor, 2006 WY 10, ¶ 34, 126 P.3d 117, 127 (Wyo. 2006). 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); Britt, supra. 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, ¶ 39, 126 P.3d 117, 128 (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, 896 P.2d at 1351.
23. Our evaluation of this appeal turns, at least in part, 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 the required substantial evidence, the State Board will not substitute its judgement for 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 employed the CAMA system supplied by the Department to determine the value of Taxpayer’s structures. The use of the CAMA system is specifically authorized and entitles the Assessor’s value to be afforded a presumption of correctness. Supra ¶¶ 8, 21, 22.
25. Taxpayer did not present any evidence challenging the CAMA system, its use by the Assessor, or the information specific to her property inputted into the CAMA system.
26. The County Board record indicates Taxpayer has the necessary easement and permission to construct a bridge across the Garland Canal to physically access her property, but for unstated reasons has chosen not to do so. Supra ¶¶ 5,6. It is Taxpayer’s own decision which has the effect of limiting access to her property which is not as a matter of law “landlocked.” Taxpayer’s decision as to how to access her property can not be the driving force behind the Assessor’s conclusions as to fair market value. Her decision does not create a “landlocked” situation nor does it require the Assessor to place a zero value on her property. The Assessor, in reducing the value of Taxpayer’s land, has recognized there is a cost associated with construction of a bridge across the canal, and such cost may affect the fair market value of the property. Supra, ¶ 9. Taxpayer presented no evidence to challenge the amount of this deduction as being insufficient, other than to assert a zero value for her property.
27. The valuation of the Assessor derived using the CAMA system, and his decision with regard to a reduced land value, are presumed valid, accurate, and correct. In this case Taxpayer failed to present sufficient substantial evidence to overcome the presumption of validity in favor of the Assessor’s valuation determination for both her structures and land. The CAMA system was a rational method, equally applied to all property, and thus achieved essential fairness. The decision of the County Board affirming the Assessor’s valuation is supported by substantial evidence. We further conclude, based on our review of the record, the County Board decision was neither unlawful, arbitrary, nor capricious.
IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED the Park County Board of Equalization Order affirming the Assessor’s 2008 valuation of Taxpayer'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, 2009.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Thomas R. Satterfield, Chairman
Thomas D. Roberts, Vice-Chairman
Wendy J. Soto, Executive Secretary