Tax Court affirms Indiana Board order to reclassify Porter County couple’s land as agricultural

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The Indiana Tax Court has affirmed a ruling on the assessment of a Porter County couples’ property, finding that their attempts to secure additional retroactive relief would provide them with an “end run” around the established rules of procedure for challenging the correctness of assessments.

In July 2003, David and Nichelle Gertz purchased a home settled on roughly 11 acres of land in Porter County. They used part of the property for their residence, another for beekeeping and also allowed local farmers to cut and bale hay on their land.

For eight years after their purchase, 10.094 acres of the Gertzes’ land was classified and assessed as agricultural land. A portion of that was further classified and valued as tillable land and at least five acres were valued as agricultural excess acreage.

From 2003 through 2011, the Gertzes’ land assessments ranged from $29,400 to $43,000. That changed in 2012 when the Porter County Assessor, at the guidance of the Department of Local Government Finance, reclassified and assessed the Gertzes’ 10.094-acre tract as residential acreage, not agricultural acreage. The value of the land increased from $43,000 to $121,900.

Although they didn’t appeal the 2012 assessment, the Gertzes noticed a “substantial increase in [their] annual tax bill” after the 2012 reclassification.

The Gertzes appealed their 2013, 2017, and 2018 assessments and the parties resolved each of those appeals by agreement, reducing the Gertzes’ assessments to be consistent with either comparable property data or certain appraisal data.

But in 2019, the assessor assigned the Gertzes’ property an assessed value of $422,600, prompting the Gertzes to seek review first with the assessor and then with the Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.

Still dissatisfied with the PTABOA’s reduction of the 2019 assessment to $387,600, the Gertzes appealed with the Indiana Board in July 2020, electing to have their case heard under the Indiana Board’s small claims procedures.

In its final determination, the Indiana Board determined that the evidence demonstrated that the couple’s 10.094 acres should be classified and assessed as agricultural land. Despite the favorable ruling, the Gertzes appealed seeking additional retroactive relief involving the correctness of their 2012 through 2018 assessments.

The Indiana Tax Court on Thursday affirmed the Indiana Board’s decision in David A. and Nichelle L. Gertz v. Porter County Assessor, 21T-TA-00025.

It noted that just because the Gertzes sought rehearing to obtain relief for preceding tax years after discovering that the Indiana Board had ruled in their favor, that fact does not warrant the retroactive application of their 2019 appeal beyond the period prescribed by statute.

“Similarly, without something more, their allegations concerning the Assessor’s conduct are insufficient to extend their 2019 appeal to preceding years. Indeed, it has long been recognized that ‘in property assessment appeals at both the administrative and judicial levels, each tax year – and each appeals process – stands alone.’ Consequently, the Gertzes have not demonstrated that the Indiana Board erred by failing to grant them additional relief for the 2012 through 2018 tax years,” Judge Martha Blood Wentworth wrote.

“To allow the Gertzes’ challenges to their 2012 through 2018 real property assessments to proceed in these circumstances would provide them with an ‘end run’ around the established rules of procedure for challenging the correctness of assessments,” the Tax Court concluded. “Consequently, the Indiana Board’s final determination in this matter must be affirmed.”

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