BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
FOR THE STATE OF WYOMING
IN THE MATTER OF THE ALLEGATIONS BY )
DOUGLAS K. MINICK, COUNTY ASSESSOR FOR )
SHERIDAN COUNTY, WYOMING, OF VIOLATION )
OF STATE LAW REGARDING THE EQUALIZATION ) Docket No. 99-02
AND COLLECTION OF REAL ESTATE TAXES ON )
PROPERTY OWNED BY SHERIDAN COUNTY FOR )
TAX YEARS 1991 THROUGH 1998. )
THIS MATTER having come before the State Board of
Equalization (SBOE) pursuant to a request by Douglas K. Minick, County Assessor
for Sheridan County, Wyoming (1), for the SBOE to
examine in accordance with Wyo. Stat. 39-11-102.1(c)(x)and Chapter
4, State Board of Equalization Rules, allegations that Sheridan County is
neither paying nor collecting real estate taxes owed on property owned by
Sheridan County, Wyoming. This matter was considered by the State Board of
Equalization, Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman, Roberta A. Coates, Vice Chairman, and
Ron Arnold, Member. The SBOE having reviewed the entire file and independently
examined all information provided in this matter states the following:
1. The SBOE's jurisdiction in this matter is invoked pursuant to Wyo. Stat. 39-11-102.1(c)(x)which states that the SBOE shall:
"Carefully examine into all cases wherein it is alleged that property subject to taxation has not been assessed or has been fraudulently, improperly, or unequally assessed, or the law in any manner evaded or violated, and cause to be instituted proceedings which will remedy improper or negligent administration of the tax laws of the state; . . ."
2. This matter arises from a letter dated December 23, 1998, and filed with
the SBOE on January 4, 1999, from Douglas K. Minick, Sheridan County Assessor,
requesting the SBOE to examine into allegations that property taxes on property
owned by Sheridan County were not being paid or collected for tax years 1991
3. This matter was stayed by the SBOE pending the decision of the Wyoming
Supreme Court in Exxon Corporation v. Board of County Commissioners,
Sublette County, 987 P.2d 158 (Wyo. 1999). The SBOE lifted the stay after
the issuance of the Wyoming Supreme Court's decision and requested information
from the Sheridan County Treasurer regarding the allegations. The Sheridan
County Treasurer responded by letter dated April 26, 2000. Members of the SBOE
subsequently met with Sheridan County officials on July 19, 2000, and requested
additional information. Additional information was provided by the Sheridan
County and Prosecuting Attorney by letter dated November 22, 2000.
4. The SBOE finds it has jurisdiction to conduct this examination both
statutorily and pursuant to the Wyoming Supreme Court's decision in Exxon
Corporation v. Board of County Commissioners, Sublette County, 987 P.2d 158
(Wyo. 1999) where the Wyoming Supreme Court reinforced the SBOE's statutory
authority to conduct such an examination as part of its regulatory function.
5. Two issues are raised in this examination. The first issue is whether or
not the properties in question are exempt from taxation as "[t]he property of
the . . . counties . . . , when used primarily for a governmental purpose."
Art. 15 12, Wyoming Constitutionand Wyo. Stat. 39-11-105. The
second issue is whether or not Sheridan County officials followed the proper
procedures in setting aside or canceling the assessments of the county assessor
believed to be erroneous or illegal.
6. While serving as county assessor, Mr. Minick determined that the properties in question were not entitled to an exemption and assessed the properties owned by Sheridan County.
7. According to the letter response from the Sheridan County Treasurer, the
current county assessor, county attorney, and county commissioners (in their
role as the county board of equalization) believe in their judgment the
properties were exempt from taxation and assessed in error. The officials chose
to either disregard or cancel the tax assessments issued because of their
collective belief that the assessments are erroneous and do not comport with the
8. As distasteful as it is for the SBOE to insert itself into what appears on
the surface to be a local dispute, we cannot avoid our constitutional and
statutory responsibilities to ensure that properties are uniformly valued
throughout the state and that the tax laws of the state are properly
9. Under the circumstances presented to the SBOE, we lack the authority to
change assessments issued by an assessor. Nor can we or any county official
circumvent the procedures set forth in the statutes for challenging an
assessment believed to be erroneous or illegal.
10. While the letter responses of the Sheridan County Treasurer of April 26,
2000, and the Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney of November 22, 2000, are
well researched and reasoned legal briefs for the proposition that the
properties in question, for the most part, are entitled to an exemption from
taxation as property used primarily for a governmental purpose, that
determination may not be substituted for the initial determination made by the
county assessor on the taxability of property owned by Sheridan County. There
must be statutory authority to challenge the assessment and proper statutory
procedures must be followed to contest the assessor's initial determination.
11. No matter how well reasoned and compelling the legal arguments may be,
the SBOE must first consider whether or not a county treasurer can refuse to
collect on the assessments issued by a county assessor, who clearly has the
statutory authority to levy taxes under Wyo. Stat. 39-13-107(b)(i)(A)
and Wyo. Stat. 39-13-102(g), (. . ."county assessor shall deliver the
tax list and his warrant for the collection of the taxes to the county treasurer
setting forth the assessment role. . . ").
12. Therefore, we must determine whether or not there is statutory authority
to correct an assessment believed to be erroneous or illegal and whether or not
any authorized procedures were followed in this matter to correct an assessment
alleged to be either illegal or erroneous.
13. With respect to the authority of a county treasurer, the applicable
Wyoming statutes, Wyo. Stat. 39-13-102(h) and Wyo. Stat. 39-13-107(b)(i)(B)
The county treasurer upon receiving the tax list and warrant [from the assessor] shall immediately proceed to collect the taxes levied for the current year and taxes remaining unpaid from preceding years.
Nowhere in the statutes were we able to find authorization for the county
treasurer to refuse to collect an assessment issued by the county assessor, even
though the treasurer believed such assessment to be erroneous.
14. However, there are several statutory methods for challenging an
assessment available to any person, including the county treasurer and board of
county commissioners, if the county assessor's assessment is believed erroneous.
15. First, under Wyo. Stat. 39-13-102(c), the board of county
commissioners, sitting as the county board of equalization, is required to meet
no earlier than the fourth Tuesday in April to consider current year
assessments. The county assessor or his designee is required to attend all
meetings "to explain or defend the assessments." The county board of
equalization is required to:
(iii) Correct any assessment or valuation contained in and complete the assessment role;
(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.
16. At the annual meeting of the county board of equalization, any person
including the county treasurer or the county attorney could have challenged the
correctness of the county assessor's assessments on the properties in question.
Theoretically, the county board could have "corrected" the assessments by
removing them from the assessment role and the county assessor would have been
there to defend his assessment. In the event that the proposed correction was
disputed by any person, including the county assessor or the county treasurer,
the county board of equalization would have been duty bound to hold a contested
case hearing and provide the parties with a written decision. Due process would
have been provided and an appeal of the county board's decision could have been
taken to the SBOE and beyond.
17. According to Mr. Minick, the properties in question still remain on the Sheridan County assessment roles so we must assume that no "correction" was made by the county board of equalization at its annual meetings nor was a hearing provided. If in fact, discussions were held on the validity of those assessments during the course of the annual meeting(s) of the county board of equalization, the deliberations and corrections of the assessment roles would obviously be reflected in the minutes of the meetings of the county board of equalization.
18. The importance of that annual meeting of the county board of equalization and the finality it imparts to county budgets cannot be overemphasized. Immediately after the assessment roll is corrected by the county board, the county assessor prepares the abstract of the assessment roll and transmits it to the state board. On or before the first Tuesday of August, the county board levies the requisite taxes for the year. From that information the county assessor computes the tax list and delivers his warrant to the county treasurer for collection of the taxes. Failing to collect taxes on certain county owned property adversely affects other beneficiaries of property taxes, such as school districts, special districts and others.
19. Because none of these actions appear to have been taken by the county
board of equalization in its annual meeting to consider current year
assessments, the grant of the treasurer's request to cancel delinquent taxes is
not authorized by Wyo. Stat. 39-13-102(c).
20. No information provided to the SBOE indicates the actions of the County
board of equalization were taken in response to any appeal from the original
21. Therefore, only the implied authority of the board of county
commissioners under Wyo. Stat. 39-13-109(c) to correct an erroneous or
illegal assessment, levy or collection of taxes within one (1) year can justify
their cancellation of the delinquent taxes.
22. Wyo. Stat 39-13-109(c) provides in pertinent part:
c) Refunds. The following shall apply:
(i) Within one (1) year following an illegal assessment, levy or collection of taxes an action may be filed in district court to enjoin the illegal assessment, levy or collection. The action shall be against the county assessor in the case of an illegal assessment, . . . the county treasurer if the levy is entered on the tax list, or against the governmental entity if the taxes were collected and paid to the entity;
(ii) If any person pays any tax, or portion thereof, found to have been erroneous or illegal, the board of county commissioners shall direct the county treasurer to refund the erroneous or illegal payment to the taxpayer. . . .
23. The information provided by the Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney
in his November 22, 2000, letter reflects that the board of county commissioners
took the following actions with respect to the properties in question:
A. On September 1, 1998, the board of county commissioners granted a request by the county treasurer to cancel delinquent taxes on the properties in question for several prior tax years; and
B. On July 6, 1999, the board of county commissioners unanimously voted to cancel delinquent taxes for 1998 which were assessed on the properties in question.
24. Because no appeals were taken from the decisions of the board of county
commissioners in 1998 or 1999, we again feel constrained to accept the decision
of the board of county commissioners with respect to the assessments for the tax
years immediately preceding the board's actions, 1997 and 1998.
25. However, we cannot condone the cancellation of delinquent taxes for any
years prior to 1997, because there is no indication that the board of county
commissioners acted within one (1) year following the asserted erroneous or
illegal assessment, levy or collection of taxes.
26. The SBOE notes that Mr. Minick waited until after he had lost his
reelection bid to request the SBOE exercise its examination powers in this
matter. The issue was ripe for review years ago while he was still in office.
This illustrates the problem the SBOE has with the examination power provided
for in Wyo. Stat. 39-11-102.1(c)(x) which sets no statutory time
limitation for filing an examination request. Problems with improper or
negligent administration of tax laws require immediate attention so that errors
are not repeated year after year or compounded by the passage of time.
27. Except as specifically noted above, from our review of the tax statutes,
we simply cannot find any justification for a county treasurer, county attorney,
board of county commissioners or county board of equalization to unilaterally
decide not to collect a tax assessment that has been placed on the county rolls
by the county assessor, even with the tacit approval of the county board of
equalization. To do so would appear to violate Wyo. Stat. 39-13-102(d)
The county board of equalization has no power to and shall not set tax policy nor engage in any administrative duties concerning assessments which are delegated to the board, the department or the county assessor."
28. Finally, we feel obligated to comment that nothing contained herein
should be construed as accepting the arguments of the county concerning the
exempt status of any particular piece of county property.
A. Therefore, we must respectfully instruct the county treasurer, to proceed
to collect the taxes levied on all of the subject properties which remain
uncollected on the Sheridan County tax rolls which were (a) not subject to a
legally performed "correction" by the Sheridan County Board of Equalization at
its annual meetings, (b) formally adjudicated as exempt in a protest hearing
before the local board or (c) not determined to be an illegal or erroneous
assessment, levy or collection of taxes within one (1) year of the assessment.
Otherwise, the statutory time for protesting the county assessor's assessments
for the tax years in question has long since passed.
B. If the current Sheridan County Assessor disagrees with the prior assessor
and believes these properties are entitled to an exemption, it is certainly his
prerogative to not assess these properties. At this time, unless an appeal of
his decision is taken to the county board of equalization and ultimately
appealed to the State Board, we have no jurisdiction to determine the merits of
his determination as to the validity of any currently claimed exemption.
Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. 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 29th day of December, 2000.
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
Edmund J. Schmidt, Chairman
Roberta A. Coates, Vice-Chairman
Ron Arnold, Member
Wendy Soto, Executive Secretary