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Tax Court upholds land reclassification over assessor’s objection

February 1, 2016

The Indiana Tax Court affirmed a final determination by the state Board of Tax Review to reclassify nearly 3 acres of property from excess residential to agricultural, finding enough evidence to support the decision.

The DeKalb County assessor appealed the final determination for the 2013 tax year regarding Paul and Joan Chavez’s 5.18 acres, in which a mobile home, detached garage and three pole barns sat on the partially wooded property. For the tax year in question, the assessor classified 2.72 wood acres as excess residential. The Chavezes’ appealed, believing their assessment was too high.

They argued the land should be classified as agricultural because when they purchased the property in the 1980s, the prior owner had harvested some trees and they intended to do the same. Some trees were mature in 2013 and others were still maturing; but none of the trees had been harvested in 2013, according to the record.

The Board of Tax Review determined the assessor had erred and reclassified the land as agricultural.

The Real Property Assessment Guidelines for 2011 identify factors to be considered in determining whether land is woodland, such as the existence of a timber management plan, the harvesting and sale of the timber, the purchaser’s intent when purchasing the land, and whether there was a change in the use of the property.

"The Assessor claims, however, that by giving more weight to the Chavezes’ intent at the time of purchase than to the other factors identified in the guidelines creates an unworkable standard, as it would 'place[] an impossible burden on [assessors generally] to assess a property’s actual use.' The Court applies the law, however, as written; the Assessor’s remedy therefore lies with the Legislature,” Judge Martha Wentworth wrote Friday in DeKalb County Assessor v. Paul L. and Joan E. Chavez,
49T10-1502-TA-6. “Accordingly, the Assessor’s argument does not persuade the Court to either ignore the purchaser’s intent at the time of purchase or refuse to give it heightened import as the guidelines set forth.”

“The guidelines provide several factors to consider when determining whether land is woodland and is therefore devoted to an agricultural use under Indiana Code § 6-1.1-4-13(a). The Indiana Board did not act contrary to law when it analyzed these very factors to determine that the Chavezes’ 2.72 acres were devoted to an agricultural use. Furthermore, the Assessor’s claim that the Indiana Board’s final determination was not supported by substantial or reliable evidence must also fail because the record contains more than a scintilla of supporting evidence and a reasonable person viewing the entire record could find enough relevant evidence to support the Indiana Board’s final determination,” Wentworth wrote.

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