Tax Court affirms assessments of lakefront property

The Indiana Tax Court has affirmed two property assessments for a lakefront property in northern Indiana, finding that the property owner failed to meet her burden of proof to discredit the county’s assessments.

In Mary K. Fisher v. Carroll County Assessor, 49T10-1601-TA-1, Mary Fisher owned a 2.4-acre harbor lot on Lake Freeman in Monticello. Pursuant to Carroll County zoning ordinances, Fisher’s lot could be used for residential or public recreational purposes, such as a public park or golf course.

In 2012, Fisher’s property assessment reached $275,000, compared to only $58,300 the year before, prompting her to appeal the assessment to the Carroll County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.  The county board reduced the assessment to $232,800, which Fisher then appealed to the Indiana Board of Tax Review.

In the meantime, Fisher’s property was assessed at $238,600 in 2014, but the county appellate board failed to conduct a timely review of the 2014 assessment. Instead, Fisher took her 2014 appeal to the Indiana board, which consolidated it with her pending 2012 appeal.

In a November 2015 final determination, the Indiana board affirmed the county board’s decision with respect to the 2012 assessment and the Carroll County assessor’s 2014 assessment of her property. Fisher then went to the Indiana Tax Court, arguing the board erred when it determined the assessor made a prima facie case that the 2012 assessment was correct, determined she bore the burden of proof on the 2014 assessment and “ignored evidence that demonstrated that both assessments were incorrect.”

Specifically, Fisher argued under Indiana Code 6-1.1-4-4.4, the county assessor was required to document any changes to the “underlying characteristics” of a property between assessments, such as the change that caused the sharp uptick in Fisher’s assessments between 2011 and 2012.

But in a Tuesday affirmation of the board’s decision, Indiana Tax Court Senior Judge Thomas Fisher wrote the record in the case shows that as early as 2010, the assessor classified the use of Mary Fisher’s lot of as commercial, a classification that did not change between 2011 and 2012. Thus, “the reasonable inference is that the Assessor increased the value of Fisher’s lot solely because it was undervalued in relation to other comparable properties,” an inference corroborated by the assessor’s market-based evidence, the judge wrote.

Further, Judge Fisher wrote that because Mary Fisher did not appeal her 2013 assessment, which was the same as her 2012 assessment, the board properly placed the burden of proof on her with respect to her 2014 assessment appeal.

Finally, Mary Fisher argued the board failed to address other evidence, such as the fact that public parks in Carroll County are assessed at $25,000 an acre, common areas of subdivision are assessed at zero and under an income approach to value, her lot should have been assessed at $61,000. Judge Fisher rejected each of those arguments in turn, writing that she failed to prove that her property is a public park that has no value under the “common areas” concept and she failed to develop an argument for using the income approach to valuing her property.

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