Agricultural Land Tax Assessment In Indiana

Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-13 provides: "In assessing or reassessing land, the land shall be assessed as agricultural land only when it is devoted to agricultural use." IND. CODE ANN. 6-1.1-4-13(a) (West 1989). See also IND. ADMIN. CODE tit. 50, r. 2.2-5-2 (2001) (providing for farmland use types). FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY For the 1995 tax year, X owned three parcels of real property in Hamilton County, Indiana. Two parcels were land only, and the third was land and a one-story office building. Parcel 1 was classified as "commercial undeveloped useable" land. Parcel 2 was classified as a one-acre homesite with the remaining acreage classified as "residential excess acreage." On parcel 3, X's office building was graded a "C+2." X appealed the three assessments to the Hamilton County Board of Review (BOR). on March 7, 1997, the BOR denied any relief to X. On March 20, 1997, X filed three Form 131 Petitions for Review of Assessment (131 Petitions), appealing the BOR's final determinations to the State Board. On December 9, 1997, the State Board held a joint hearing on all three of X's claims. X argued that (1) the land on parcels 1 and 2 should be classified as agricultural land, (2) the improvement should be given a "C" grade, and (3) the improvement was entitled to twenty percent economic obsolescence depreciation. On March 26, 1998, the State Board issued a final determination, making no changes to the land classifications for parcels 1 and 2, and denying X's request for grade and obsolescence adjustments. On May 11, 1998, X initiated three original tax appeals. the Court heard all three claims at one trial on January 8, 1999. Additional facts will be supplied as needed. Agricultural land The first issue is whether the land in parcels 1 and 2 should be reclassified from commercial and residential land to agricultural land. The base rate for agricultural land is $ 495 per acre. IND. ADMIN. CODE tit. 50, r. 2.2-5-6(5) (2001). See also Blackbird Farms Apartments, LP v. Dep't of Local Gov't Fin., 765 N.E.2d 711, 713 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002) (explaining how the true tax value of land is calculated). . X contends that it submitted probative evidence showing that parcels 1 and 2 were farmed in 1994 and 1995. the State Board, on the other hand, asserts that X submitted no probative evidence to support its claim. the State Board is correct. To show that parcels 1 and 2 were agricultural land, X submitted several documents. First, X submitted an aerial photograph of Delaware Township that includes parcels 1 and 2. (Stip. Ex. 9.) In conjunction with the aerial photograph, X also submitted evidence showing that other parcels in Delaware Township had been classified as agricultural land for the 1995 tax year and argued that those parcels, as depicted on the aerial map, were nearly indistinguishable in appearance from parcels 1 and 2. (Trial Tr. at 55-56; Stip. Exs. 8, 9.) In addition to the aerial map, X submitted a letter from its Director of Properties stating that X had leased as farmland "any useable acreage that was available" in 1994 and 1995. (Stip. Ex. 2.) the letter, however, does not indicate specifically whether parcels 1 and 2 were part of the "useable acreage that was available" for the 1995 tax year. (Trial Tr. at 61-62; Stip. Ex. 2.) Next, X submitted a copy of a signed lease agreement it entered into with a local farmer. (Stip. Ex. 6.) the lease, however, does not specify that parcels 1 and 2 were in fact the parcels leased. (See id). Rather, the lease merely provides that it was for "approximately thirty-five . . . acres tillable, more or less, and as shown shaded in Exhibit 'A' attached hereto and made a part hereof." (Id). The exhibit attached to the lease is a hand-drawn map of Delaware Township that bears a series of hash marks in the lower right corner with the handwritten legend "denotes land included in lease." (Id). The areas so shaded with hash marks on the attached lease exhibit do not, however, correspond to parcels 1 and 2. (Cf. id., Stip. Ex. 9). X also submitted a black-and-white photocopy of an aerial photograph showing parcel 1 as of March 1996. (Stip. Ex. 5). X proposes that the photocopy "depicts a harvest from 1995." (Pet'r Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law at 11.) What the photocopy shows, however, is a field of tall weeds next to a parking lot. (See Stip. Ex. 5).