Court affirms higher home assessment as compared to neighbors

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The Indiana Tax Court Thursday affirmed the 2007 assessment of a property in an upscale community on Lake Michigan, rejecting the homeowner’s argument that the assessment should be lower because surrounding homes were assessed at a lower ratio when taking into account the prices at which the homes were sold.

William Thorsness appealed the $1,647,800 assessment of the property he purchased on Jan. 31, 2007, for $1.65 million. He argued that his assessment should be reduced to $1,311,750, which is 79.5 percent of the purchase price. He came up with this percentage after looking at six other residential properties in his neighborhood and found, on average, they were assessed at 79.5 percent of their recent sale prices.

The Indiana Board of Tax Review affirmed the assessment, finding Thorsness’ “ratio study” didn’t meet the criteria for ratio studies.  Because of that, it was not probative in demonstrating that his property was inequitably or non-uniformly assessed.

He appealed in February 2011, and the Tax Court heard arguments in August 2011.

In William W. Thorsness v. Porter County Assessor, 49T10-1102-TA-14, Thorsness claimed the tax board erred in determining that he, and not the assessor, bore the burden of proof at the administrative hearing. Second, he claimed that the board erred in determining that his evidence was not probative in demonstrating that the assessor’s assessment lacked uniformity.

In 2009, the General Assembly established an exception to the rule that a taxpayer always bears the burden of proof when challenging property tax assessments – I.C. 6-1.1-15-1(p), “the burden-shifting rule.” The exception occurs when the assessed value increases by more than five percent over the preceding assessment date.

“[T]he Indiana Board’s mistake does not constitute reversible error in this case because the burden-shifting rule contained in Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-1(p) (and its progeny) applies only to valuation challenges, not to uniform and equal constitutional challenges for the following reasons,” Judge Martha Blood Wentworth wrote.

She noted that while Thorsness’ data on his neighbors’ assessments is relevant, the board didn’t err in determining it was not probative in demonstrating that his property was assessed and taxed at a level that exceeded the common level within the township overall. The standards outlined by the Department of Local Government Finance require a statistical measure of assessment uniformity must be calculated for the entire taxing district and each stratum therein.


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