Tax Assessment Commercial Parcels In Indiana
X appeals the final determination of the State Board of Tax Commissioners (State Board) valuing its two commercial parcels as of the March 1, 1997 assessment date.
The issue before the Court is whether the State Board erred in valuing X's land at $ 180,000 per acre. for the reasons given below, the Court REVERSES the State Board's final determination.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
X owns two parcels of commercial land in Washington Township, Hamilton County, Indiana. the parcels are in a geographic area bordered on the east by U.S. Highway 31 (U.S. 31), on the west by railroad tracks, on the north by State Road 32, and on the south by 146th Street. X's land does not, however, front U.S. 31. Rather, a row of parcels owned by another party lies between X's land and U.S. 31.
In accordance with Indiana Code Section 6-1.1-4-13.6 (1993), a Hamilton County land order was promulgated by the Hamilton County land valuation commission and adopted as a rule after review by the State Board. the Washington Township Assessor (Assessor) valued X's parcels from the land order at $ 180,000 per acre.
In particular, the Assessor assessed X's parcels from the section of the land order for commercial land located in the geographic area of "US 31 Corr from 146th St to St. Rt 32" (sic). (See Admin. R. at 71.) the true tax value under this section of the land order ranged from $ 30,500 to $ 350,000 per acre. (Admin. R. at 68.)
X appealed the assessment on each of its parcels to the Hamilton County Board of Review (BOR). on February 5, 1998, the BOR denied X's appeals.
On February 10, 1998, X appealed its assessment to the State Board. the only issue X raised was whether its land was properly valued pursuant to the land order. on May 17, 2001, the State Board issued a final determination affirming Park Steckley's assessment.
On July 2, 2001, X initiated an original tax appeal. In January 2002, the parties stipulated the evidence in this case and briefed the issues in lieu of a trial. on November 1, 2002, the parties presented oral arguments. Additional facts will be supplied as needed.
The sole issue is whether the State Board properly valued X's parcels pursuant to the land order. X argues that because its parcels are located west of land that fronts U.S. 31, the State Board should have assessed its parcels from the section of the land order for commercial land located west of the U.S. 31 corridor.
The State Board argues, however, that X's land was appropriately valued from the section of the land order applicable to parcels located within the area of the U.S. 31 corridor.
A land order is a set of land values used to assess real property. These land values are expressed as ranges of "base rates" that are applied to various geographic areas delineated within the land order. See IND. ADMIN. CODE tit. 50, rr. 2.2-4-4 (1996) (repealed 1998); 2.2-4-17(a) (2001).
The crux of X's argument is that because the State Board has not defined what comprises the U.S. 31 corridor, the reference to the U.S. 31 corridor in both sections of the land order creates an ambiguity as to whether X's land is within or to the west of the U.S. 31 corridor. the Court agrees.
Therefore, X's argument that its parcels do not lie within the area of the U.S. 31 corridor, but rather lie in the area immediately west of the U.S. 31 corridor, is persuasive.
The State Board suggests no alternative construction to "corridor," except to say that "the definition of Corridor need not be as limiting as (X) states." (Resp't Br. at 6).
This, however, gives no reasonable indication as to what lies within the U.S. 31 corridor and what lies without. See Mechanics Laundry & Supply, Inc. v. Indiana Dep't of State Revenue, 650 N.E.2d 1223, 1233 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1995) (holding that administrative rules must be "written with sufficient precision to give fair warning as to what factors an agency will consider in making an administrative decision").
The State Board attempted to rebut X's prima facie case with the Assessor's testimony: "Basically we did three things, we reviewed sales, we compared values with surrounding parcels, and we applied those values uniformly and fairly." (Admin. R. at 71; see also Resp't Br. at 8 (citing Admin R. at 71)).
The State Board also submitted a property record card of a putatively comparable parcel near X's land that was valued the same as X's parcels. (Admin. R. at 47-48.) Nevertheless, the State Board presented no explanation as to why it thought the land was comparable to X's.
Neither a conclusory statement nor a property record card unaccompanied by an explanation constitutes substantial evidence. See Damico v. Dep't of Local Gov't Fin., 769 N.E.2d 715, 723 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002) (holding that a taxpayer's conclusory, unannotated evidence did not constitute probative evidence).
The Court holds that the Hamilton County land valuation commission intended its reference to "corridor" to include only those lands that front U.S. 31. X made a prima facie case showing that its parcels were not in the geographic area of "US 31 Corr from 146th St to St. Rt 32" (sic), but rather were in the geographic area of "W. of US 31 Corr to RR tracks from 146th St to St. Rt 32" (sic).
Because the State Board did not rebut X's prima facie case, the Court REVERSES the State Board's final determination and REMANDS this case to the Indiana Board to determine the appropriate assessment of X's parcels from page 695 of the land order containing the section for land in the geographic area "W. of US 31 Corr to RR tracks from 146th St to St. Rt 32" (sic).
For the aforementioned reasons, the Court REVERSES the State Board's final determination and REMANDS this case to the Indiana Board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.