Madison, IN

HOME FEDERAL SAVINGS BANK,        )          
    Petitioner,                    )
    v.                             )    Cause No. 49T10-0211-TA-134

MADISON TOWNSHIP ASSESSOR,        )                                  )
    Respondent.            )    


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 Federal’s 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.”

    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 are unplatted.
    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 BOR’s 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.
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 it is:
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.

Ind. Code Ann. § 33-26-6-6(e)(1)-(5) (West Supp. 2004). The party seeking to overturn the Indiana Board’s 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 Board’s 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. Dep’t of Local Gov’t 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 Federal’s 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 Madison’s 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 won’t get into a lot of restating the issues about [] Indiana’s equalization process, but I did bring a copy of the code and I’m going to give you that. . . . So it’s our position that applying Indiana’s 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 Comm’rs, 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. Dep’t of Local Gov’t 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. Smith’s 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 Federal’s 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. Dep’t of Local Gov’t 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 Assessor’s duty to rebut Home Federal’s evidence was not triggered. See Clark v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 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 Board’s final determination upholding the assessment was not arbitrary or capricious.

    For the foregoing reasons, the Indiana Board’s final determination is AFFIRMED.

Footnote: 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 Federal’s appeal in August of 2002, it was held by the Indiana Board. Likewise, the final determination was issued by the Indiana Board.

Footnote: There is some discrepancy in the record regarding the date of this hearing. The Indiana Board’s 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.