ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER:
ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT:
TIMOTHY J. VRANA
SHARPNACK BIGLEY LLP
WILMER E. GOERING
Columbus, IN ECKERT ALCORN GOERING & SAGE LLP
INDIANA TAX COURT
HOME FEDERAL SAVINGS BANK, )
v. ) Cause No. 49T10-0211-TA-134
MADISON TOWNSHIP ASSESSOR, )
ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF
THE INDIANA BOARD OF TAX REVIEW
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
October 13, 2004
Home Federal Savings Bank (Home Federal) appeals the final determination of the Indiana
Board of Tax Review (Indiana Board) valuing its real property for the 1995
assessment year. The issue in this case is whether valuation of Home
Federals property on a front footage basis violates Article X, Section 1 of
the Indiana Constitution which provides for a uniform and equal rate of property
assessment and taxation.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Home Federal owns a platted parcel of land in Jefferson County, Indiana.
The property is located on the south side of a commercial strip known
as the Madison Hilltop. Lots on the south side of the strip
(i.e., street) are platted while lots on the north side of the strip
The Jefferson County Land Order states that parcels that are not platted should
be priced no higher than $24,750.00 per acre, while commercial/industrial platted lots should
be priced no higher than $900.00 per front foot. Thus, for the
1995 general reassessment, the Madison Township Assessor (Assessor) assessed the subject property using
the $900.00 per front foot rate.
Home Federal appealed the assessment to the Jefferson County Board of Review (BOR),
which affirmed the assessment. On June 26, 1996, Home Federal filed a
Petition for Review of Assessment (Form 131) with the State Board of Tax
Commissioners (State Board) contending that the land should instead be assessed at $24,750.00
per acre so that it would be valued similarly to the property on
the north side of the street. The Indiana Board
See footnote held a hearing
on August 5, 2002See footnote and issued a final determination on October 9, 2002,
affirming the BORs decision.
Home Federal initiated an original tax appeal on November 15, 2002. This
Court heard the parties oral arguments on October 6, 2003. Additional facts
will be supplied as necessary.
ANALYSIS AND OPINION
Standard of Review
This Court gives great deference to final determinations of the Indiana Board.
Wittenberg Lutheran Vill. Endowment Corp. v. Lake County Prop. Tax Assessment Bd. of
Appeals, 782 N.E.2d 483, 486 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2003), review denied. Consequently,
the Court will reverse a final determination of the Indiana Board only if
arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law;
contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity;
in excess of or short of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations;
without observance of procedure required by law; or
unsupported by substantial or reliable evidence. Discussion
Ind. Code Ann. § 33-26-6-6(e)(1)-(5) (West Supp. 2004). The party seeking to
overturn the Indiana Boards final determination bears the burden of proving its invalidity.
Osolo Township Assessor v. Elkhart Maple Lane Assocs., L.P., 789 N.E.2d 109,
111 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2003).
Home Federal argues that the Indiana Boards final determination cannot stand because it
allows similar properties to be assessed in a dissimilar manner. More specifically,
Home Federal maintains that application of the Land Order does not result in
a uniform and equal assessment as required by Article X, Section 1 of
the Indiana Constitution because commercial properties on the south side of the strip
are assessed at $900.00 per front foot whereas comparable properties on the north
side of the strip are assessed at $24,750.00 per acre.
See footnote The Assessor
argues, however, that Home Federal failed to present a prima facie case showing
that its property was assessed in an unconstitutional manner. The Court agrees
with the Assessor.
To establish a prima facie case challenging the base rate applied to its
land, a taxpayer must present probative evidence showing that comparable properties were assessed
and taxed differently.
Blackbird Farms Apartments, L.P. v. Dept of Local Govt
Fin., 765 N.E.2d 711, 714 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002). To meet its
burden, Home Federal introduced into evidence at the administrative hearing a copy of
the Land Order, property record cards for two purportedly comparable properties, and a
copy of Indiana Code section 6-1.1-2-2 (requiring uniform and equal assessments). (Cert.
Admin. R. at 14.) Home Federals tax consultant, Milo Smith (Smith), referenced
this evidence at the administrative hearing:
I want to give you a copy of two property record cards .
. . these two on Madisons Hill Top; they are not platted and
assuming that when these are corrected I want to use these as evidence
to show that the equalization process needs to be followed on the Parcel
we are talking about now. And I wont get into a lot
of restating the issues about  Indianas equalization process, but I did bring
a copy of the code and Im going to give you that. .
. . So its our position that applying Indianas equalization process that
this property should be assessed at no more . . . then [sic]
$24,750 per acre on the land.
(Cert. Admin. R. at 78-79.) Smith made no further comments regarding either
this evidence or the uniform and equal issue at the hearing. (See
Cert. Admin. R. at 75-90.)
Taxpayers are required to make a detailed factual showing at the administrative level.
See Hoogenboom-Nofziger v. State Bd. of Tax Commrs, 715 N.E.2d 1018, 1024
(Ind. Tax Ct. 1999). To this end, the taxpayer must not only
present probative evidence in support of its argument, but it must also sufficiently
explain that evidence. See Damico v. Dept of Local Govt Fin., 769
N.E.2d 715, 723 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002). For example, when a taxpayer
introduces evidence of allegedly comparable properties, the taxpayer must explain how the properties
are comparable, including factors such as size, shape, topography, accessibility, [and] use.
Beyer v. State, 280 N.E.2d 604, 607 (Ind. 1972). See also Blackbird
Farms Apartments, 765 N.E.2d at 715 (holding that the taxpayer did not present
a prima facie case where it provided assessment information for allegedly comparable properties
but failed to explain how the properties were comparable.)
Home Federal has not met this burden. It has made a de
minimis factual showing and has failed to sufficiently link its evidence to the
uniform and equal argument it makes. Smiths statements regarding the property record
cards are conclusory at best. Smith did not make any attempt to
explain why or how the properties are comparable to Home Federals property.
This Court has repeatedly held that [n]either conclusory statements nor documents unaccompanied by
an explanation constitutes probative evidence. Damico, 769 N.E.2d at 723. See
also Hoogenboom-Nofziger, 715 N.E.2d at 1024 (holding that taxpayer failed to make prima
facie case when he offered conclusory statements and photographs without further explanation); Lacy
Diversified Industries, Ltd. v. Dept of Local Govt Fin., 799 N.E.2d 1215, 1220
(Ind. Tax Ct. 2003) (holding that taxpayer failed to make prima facie case
when he offered conclusory statements, property record cards, and photographs without further explanation).
Because Home Federal did not meet its burden of presenting a prima facie
case, the Assessors duty to rebut Home Federals evidence was not triggered.
See Clark v. State Bd. of Tax Commrs, 694 N.E.2d 1230, 1233 (Ind.
Tax Ct. 1998) (stating that once a taxpayer presents a prima facie case,
it must be rebutted with substantial evidence). Therefore, the Indiana Boards final
determination upholding the assessment was not arbitrary or capricious.
For the foregoing reasons, the Indiana Boards final determination is AFFIRMED.
The State Board of Tax Commissioners was abolished by the legislature as
of December 31, 2001. 2001 Ind. Acts 198 § 119(b)(2). In
its stead, the Indiana Board of Tax Review (Indiana Board) was created.
Ind. Code Ann. § 6-1.5-1-3 (West Supp. 2004)(eff. 1-1-02); 2001 Ind. Acts 198
§ 95. Consequently, when the hearing was held on Home Federals appeal
in August of 2002, it was held by the Indiana Board. Likewise,
the final determination was issued by the Indiana Board.
There is some discrepancy in the record regarding the date of this
hearing. The Indiana Boards final determination indicates that the hearing was held
on July 30, 1998. (Cert. Admin. R. at 13.) However, the
hearing transcript shows that the hearing was actually held on August 5, 2002.
(Cert. Admin. R. at 74.)
Footnote: Valuation on a front footage basis results in a higher assessment per
acre than valuation on an acreage basis.