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Destroyed Property Indiana Tax Law

The controlling statute is Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11, which provides:

If a substantial amount of real and personal property in a township has been partially or totally destroyed as a result of a disaster, the state board of tax commissioners shall:

(1) cause a survey to be made of the area or areas in which the property has been destroyed; and

(2) order a reassessment of the destroyed property;

(3) if a person petitions the department to take that action. IND. CODE § 6-1.1-4-11(a) (1998).

The State Board purports to have a rule that interprets "substantial amount" to mean when:

(1) the assessed value of the destroyed property exceeds 1% of the gross assessed value of all township property or (2) the disaster causes damage to more than one taxpayer's property within a township. (Trial Tr. at 9.)

This rule, however, was unknown to the public prior to this litigation. This Court gives no deference to unpublished, secret rules. See Harrington v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 525 N.E.2d 360, 361-62 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1988) (holding that a lack of ascertainable standards in State Board rules violates a taxpayer's right to due process).

Consequently, the Court finds no merit in the State Board's unpublished and secret "rule" for determining a taxpayer's eligibility for disaster relief. See id.

Where a word in a statute is undefined by statute or case law, the Court gives the word its plain and ordinary meaning; the Court may do so by referring to a dictionary. May Dept. Stores Co. v. Indiana Dep't of State Revenue, 749 N.E.2d 651, 661 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2001).

Here, the statute refers to an "amount" of property. I.C. § 6-1.1-4-11. The plain and ordinary meaning of "amount" is "quantity." See WEBSTER'S THIRD INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY 72 (1981).

Accordingly, the phrase "substantial amount" in Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11 is synonymous with "substantial quantity," not "substantial value."

In Scheid v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 560 N.E.2d 1283 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1990), the issue was the meaning of the word "disaster" in Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11. Scheid, 560 N.E.2d at 1286.

The issue arose because the term was not defined by statute or case law, and the State Board had not promulgated any rule or public policy statement interpreting Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11.

Twelve years later, the State Board still has not promulgated any rule or public policy statement interpreting Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11.

Consequently, should the State Board choose someday to publicly interpret Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11, its interpretation must comport with existing case law on Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-11.

See Centrium Group v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 599 N.E.2d 242, 243 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1992) (holding that the Court will reverse the State Board when it acts contrary to law).

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