From the perspective of contested assessed value – $3,500 assessed v. $1,800 requested for an unimproved, residential lot in Goshen – the decision in Myers v. Elkhart County Assessor (Aug. 9, 2013) is irrelevant.  The tax dollars at issue would not justify the expense to the parties to prosecute the case and for the Indiana Board to hear it.  But the law allows the taxpayer to appeal, and the Assessor must settle or defend.  She chose the latter.   And her defense makes the ruling noteworthy.

Owners claimed that the parcel, which was located directly behind their home, “contains springs and a stream, and it is wet and marshy year-round,” so it “cannot be used for anything.”  (Page 2, § 7.)  Because the property’s assessment increased by more than 5% from 2010 to 2011 (from $3,000 to $3,500), the Assessor had the burden of proving her assessment was correct under Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15-17.2.  (Page 4, § 12.)  The Assessor argued that the parcel’s value was “consistent with other residential excess land in the county.”  (Page 2, § 8.)

In defense of her assessment, the Assessor relied upon the assessments of five other properties in the county.  Indiana Code § 6-1.1-15-18 (Section 18) permits parties to introduce assessments of comparable properties to prove the market value-in-use of the disputed property.  With respect to residential property, the comparable properties must be located in the same taxing district or within two miles of the taxing district’s boundary.  See Ind. Code § 6-1.1-15-18(c)(1).  Only one of the five comparable properties was in the same township as the property under appeal, and the Assessor did not show how close to the township’s boundaries the other parcels are located.

While the Assessor “chose mostly tree-covered vacant lots that are roughly similar in size to the subject parcel,” her “comparison of the parcels ended there.”  (Page 5, § 13(e).)  Section 18 requires the use of “generally accepted appraisal and assessment practices” to determine whether properties are comparable.  Thus, even if the Board assumed that the locational requirements of Section 18 had been met, the Assessor was required to “show that the other [five] properties are comparable to the property under appeal and how relevant differences affect their relative values.”  (Page 5, § 13(d).)  The Board noted that at least part of the property under appeal contains streams and springs and is located in a flood plain, but there was “no indication that any of the other parcels suffer from similar problems.”

The Assessor failed to support her 2011 assessment.  Accordingly, the assessment was reduced to the property’s 2010 value.  (Page 6, § 15.)  Owners offered no evidence supporting a value below the prior year’s assessment.  (Pages 5-6, § 14(a).)  Simply “listing a property’s problems does not suffice to prove [the property’s] value.”  Id.