Two exemption determinations from August 2013 illustrate the importance of meeting filing deadlines (and being able to prove it). These cases also show why the parties must carefully lead the Indiana Board of Tax Review through their arguments and evidence; they can’t expect the Board to do their work for them by wading through stacks of documents that allegedly support their positions.
Exemption applications must be timely filed
In Circle City Church of Christ v. Marion County Assessor (August 16, 2013) (March 1, 2005 assessment date), the Church acquired a building and parking lot on June 15, 2005. It filed an exemption application more than three years later, on September 22, 2008. The County Board (the PTABOA) rejected the application as untimely, because applications must be filed by May 15th of the year for which the exemption is claimed. Church countered that the normal May 15th filing deadline was negated in this case due to legislation (House Enrolled Act 1125) allowing a “limited exception” for churches that failed to timely file in 2005. (Page 6, ¶ 21.) However, the Church “failed to present any evidence or argument relating to that Act.” (Page 7, ¶ 23.) Accordingly, the Board rejected Church’s appeal because it neither filed by May 15th nor established that it satisfied the requirements for the limited, legislative exception. (Page 7, ¶ 24.)
The Board noted that property taxes are a lien on the property and attach on the assessment date. (Page 7, ¶ 26.) Because the Church didn’t own the property as of the assessment date, it might have a claim against the prior owner under Ind. Code § 6-1.1-2-4 regarding the 2005-pay-2006 taxes. That possible claim, however, “is not an issue for the Board.” (Page 7, ¶ 27.) The Board denied the Church’s request to remove any delinquent taxes assessed before the Church’s acquisition of the property on June 15, 2005. Id.
Both parties in this case failed to explain their evidence in detail. The Board observed that every exemption case “stands on its own facts” and how the parties present those facts. (Page 4, ¶ 14 n.3) (internal brackets and citations omitted). By not going through exhibits submitted, counsel’s “lack of specificity has the effect of placing a stack of paperwork before the Board and leaving it to figure out for itself the identity of the documents contained in each of the exhibits, what the relevant portions are, why they are relevant, and whether those documents are reliable.” (Page 5, ¶ 16 n.4.) But this “task . . . does not belong with the Board.” Id.
Keep proof of filing
In Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. v. St. Joseph County Assessor (August 16, 2013) (March 1, 2006 assessment date), the Diocese contended that it had mailed the applications on time, while the Assessor asserted that her office never received them. The Board concluded that the appeals turned on the following question: Did the Diocese offer reasonable evidence that it timely mailed the applications? (Pages 1-2, ¶ 1.)
The parcels under appeal, which were part of a parish in Mishawaka, consisted of a former bank building and parking lot. The parish used the property for office space and parking for parish employees and parishioners. Neither party disputed that the property qualified for an exemption if the applications were timely. (However, one of three parcels was acquired after the March 1st assessment date, so it was not exempt from 2006-pay-2007 taxes.)
The administrative assistant to the Diocese’s chief financial officer used information from the parcel’s tax bills to prepare and sign exemption applications for the parcels on May 13, 2006. The assistant testified that she sent the applications “by regular mail, United States Postal Service.” (Pages 3, ¶ 8.) She further stated: “I mailed them . . . through work, you know, it went out in the mail with all the other Diocesan mail that day.” Id. Moreover, she indicated that other forms, including personal property returns on which the Diocese claimed exemptions, were mailed “the same day from the same place,” and that these exemptions never lapsed. Id.
The Indiana Board observed that an “exemption application is timely filed when it is placed in the United States first class mail, properly addressed with sufficient postage, and post-marked on or before the due date.” (Pages 5, ¶ 14) (citing Ind. Code § 6-1.1-36-1.5(b), Indiana Sugars v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 683 N.E.2d 1386, 1387 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1997).) But “determining timeliness . . . is more complicated where, as here, a taxpayer mailed applications the assessor did not receive.” Id. The Diocese’s evidence “barely” established that it had mailed the exemption applications on time. (Pages 6, ¶ 18.) That evidence was the assistant’s testimony that (1) she “knew that the applications went out with the rest of the Diocesan mail” and (2) the Diocese “had no problem obtaining exemptions claimed on personal property returns that were included in the same day’s outgoing mail.” Id. Her testimony, the Board reasoned, “supports an inference that the Assessor received and processed those other documents, which in turn supports an inference that the applications for [two of the disputed parcels] were timely deposited in the U.S. mail.” Id.
Board will only issue rulings for the contested assessment dates before it
On a final note, the Board declined the Diocese’s request to grant exemptions for later years. The Diocese asserted that the Assessor failed to explain to it the need to file applications for those years. Because only the 2006 exemptions were before it, the Board responded that it would “not address what, if any, relief the Diocese may be entitled to for later years.” (Pages 6, ¶ 19.)