Tax Court affirms reduced assessment of Grant County golf course property

The Indiana Tax Court has affirmed the Indiana Board of Tax Review’s final determination that reduced the assessment of a Grant County couple’s golf course land.

In 2018, Randy and Sara Ballinger owned 302 acres of land in Grant County, roughly 298 acres of which housed two 18-hole golf courses, referred to as Walnut Creek. The remaining acreage contained two single-family residences, two clubhouses, multiple pole barns, and at least two utility sheds.

During that tax year, the Ballingers’ property was assigned a total assessed value of $619,700, with $379,600 for land and $240,100 for improvements. Of that value, $312,600 was allocated to Walnut Creek’s land and $31,700 was allocated to Walnut Creek’s yard improvements, consisting of the 36 golf course holes.

Believing that the Walnut Creek portion of the assessment was inconsistent with Indiana Code § 6-1.1-4-42, the Ballingers filed a notice of intent to appeal, which the Grant County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals denied after holding a hearing.

The Ballingers then filed a petition for review with the Indiana Board, where they asserted that Walnut Creek’s land should be valued at $131,196.75 for 2018.

After hearing arguments from both the Ballingers and the Grant County assessor, the Indiana Board issued its final determination in April 2019, finding that the assessor “blatantly failed to value [Walnut Creek] in accordance with Indiana Code § 6-1.1-4-42.” It further found that the Ballingers made a prima facie case for reducing their assessment despite any flaws in their evidentiary presentation.

It therefore found that Walnut Creek’s land assessment should be $131,196 as indicated in the Ballingers’ income approach, reducing the Ballingers’ 2018 total assessment from $619,700 to $438,296. Although the assessor appealed to the Indiana Tax Court, Judge Martha Wentworth affirmed, agreeing with the Indiana Board’s final determination.

Addressing the issue of burden of proof, the Tax Court first found the assessors’ arguments to be unavailing in the case of Grant County Assessor v. Randy & Sara Ballinger, 19T-TA-19.

“First, prior Indiana Board decisions are not binding on the Court, which has long-held ‘that each tax year stands alone for property tax assessment administrative and judicial appeals.’ In addition, the Assessor did not establish that Walnut Creek’s assessment was lower than other Grant County golf courses on a per hole basis because the other assessments included more than just the golf course property alone,” Wentworth wrote.

“Finally, the Assessor’s failure to assess the Ballingers’ golf course using the mandated income approach methodology makes the assessment ineligible for the presumption of correctness. Accordingly, the Court is not persuaded that any of these reasons support the claim that the Indiana Board improperly shifted the burden of proof to the Assessor,” it wrote.

Moving next to the assessor’s claims that the Indiana Board erred in concluding that the Ballingers made a prima facie case for reducing their 2018 assessment, the Tax Court found that the Ballingers’ lack of a USPAP-compliant appraisal was not fatal to making their prima facie case.

Next, it found that the assessors’ criticism to be hollow on the issue of conflicts with Indiana Code § 6-1.1-4-42 and Indiana’s constitutional requirements of uniformity and equality. Ultimately, while it noted that the statement in the Department of Local Government Finance’s PowerPoint “is troubling, it is insufficient, without something more, to support a finding that all the DLGF’s rules for assessing golf courses and its related memoranda conflict with Indiana Code § 6-1.1-4-42 and the constitutional requirements of uniformity and equality.”

Additionally, in the absence of market-based evidence, the Tax Court concluded that it could not find that the Ballingers’ use of the DLGF’s 2018 statewide capitalization rate weakens the probative value of their income approach simply because the memorandum did not explain how the rate was derived. Lastly, it noted that the Tax Court may not reverse an Indiana Board final determination because it “simply disagrees with the Indiana Board’s factual findings because it may not substitute its judgment for that of the Indiana Board.”

“The Court finds no basis for reversing the Indiana Board’s conclusion, and therefore, its final determination is affirmed,” the Tax Court concluded.

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