Indiana Assessor defended her property tax valuation of woodland as excess residential, not agricultural; Court would not reweigh the evidence

Indiana Assessor defended her property tax valuation of woodland as excess residential, not agricultural; Court would not reweigh the evidence

In Kildsig v. Warrick County Assessor (October 8, 2013), the Owner challenged the March 1, 2009 assessment of his property, which included 12.648 acres of land, his residence, two pole barns, a lake, and just over 11 acres of woods.  He claimed that 11.648 acres should have been classified as agricultural land, rather than excess acreage.  According to Owner, his agricultural use was shown by (a) a woods management plan, (b) removal of timber as firewood to heat his home, and (c) an adjacent, similarly wooded parcel that was classified as agricultural land.  The Assessor disagreed, explaining (a) the management plan was executed in 2010 – the year after the assessment date at issue, (b) Owner used the woodland for recreational and residential purposes such as hunting and heating his home, not agricultural purposes, (c) the adjacent timberland was used as part of a much larger income-producing farm (as shown in part by a USDA aerial map with the property’s farm number), and (d) the land’s reclassification had been purposely delayed “in order to change similarly misclassified land at the same time.”  Slip op. at 5.

Court would not reweigh the evidence.  The Court observed:  “Here, the Assessor’s evidence indicates that [Owner] did not use his land for an agricultural purpose; [Owner’s] evidence indicates he did.”  The Indiana Board found the Assessor’s evidence to be more persuasive.  Slip op. at 6.  The Court cannot – and will not – reweigh the evidence on appeal.  Slip op. at 6 (citing Freudenberg-NOK Gen. P’ship v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 715 N.E.2d 1026, 1030 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1999).)  The Court “may not reverse a final determination of the Indiana Board simply because it disagrees with how the Indiana Board found the facts, and it may not substitute its judgment for that of the Indiana Board.” Id. (citing Alte Salems Kirche, Inc. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 694 N.E.2d 810, 813 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1998).)  The Board’s final determination is supported by substantial evidence “if a reasonable person could view the record in its entirety and find enough relevant evidence to support the . . . determination.” Id. (quoting Amax, Inc. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 552 N.E.2d 850, 852 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1990).)  This standard was met; the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.  Slip op. at 6.

Burden-shifting statute applied to appeals before Indiana Board The Court did reverse the Indiana Board on one point.  According to the Court, the Board incorrectly had ruled that the former burden-shifting provision found in Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-1(p) applied solely to PTABOA (or County Board) proceedings.  Slip op. at 4.  The statute (as clarified and now found at Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-17.2) in fact “applied throughout the entire appeals process, not just in the initial proceedings.”  Id.

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