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Daw v. Hancock County Assessor

Tax Court of Indiana

December 5, 2018

NANCY A. DAW, STEPHEN L. HOBACK, Co-Trustees of Sagacious Sentinel Sycamore Revocable Trust, Petitioners,
v.
HANCOCK COUNTY ASSESSOR, Respondent.

          ON APPEAL FROM A FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE INDIANA BOARD OF TAX REVIEW

          PETITIONERS APPEARING PRO SE: NANCY A. DAW STEPHEN L. HOBACK Indianapolis, IN

          ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT: CURTIS T. HILL, JR. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF INDIANA ZACHARY D. PRICE MATTHEW R. ELLIOTT DEPUTY ATTORNEYS GENERAL Indianapolis, IN

          FISHER, SENIOR JUDGE

         Nancy A. Daw and Stephen L. Hoback, the Co-Trustees of the Sagacious Sentinel Sycamore Revocable Trust, have appealed the Indiana Board of Tax Review's final determination regarding the assessment of their real property for the 2016 tax year. While the Co-Trustees raise several issues on appeal, the Court consolidates them and restates them as:

I. Whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims; and
II. Whether the Indiana Board erred in upholding the assessment of the Co-Trustees' farmland. Upon review, the Court finds in favor of the Co-Trustees with respect to Issue I and in favor of the Assessor with respect to Issue II.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         During the 2016 tax year, the Co-Trustees owned 54.05 acres of land located along a portion of West County Road 650 North in the Town of McCordsville, Hancock County, Indiana. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 99, 141.) They leased 37 acres of the land to a farmer who used no-till practices to cultivate and harvest field corn and soybeans. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 27-28, 60.) The remainder of the land was unsuitable for farming and thus remained in its natural state. (See, e.g., Cert. Admin. R. at 27-28.)

         For the 2016 tax year, the Hancock County Assessor assigned the property an assessed value of $88, 400. The Co-Trustees appealed the assessment, first to the Hancock County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals and then to the Indiana Board.

         The Indiana Board held a hearing on the matter on August 18, 2017. During the hearing, the Co-Trustees claimed their property tax liability was incorrect because the ordinance that purported to annex their farm land to the Town of McCordsville (the "Town") was invalid. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 62-63, 181-82.) The Co-Trustees also claimed they did not owe nearly $3, 000 in delinquent storm water charges and penalties that resulted from the Town's unauthorized imposition of a tax. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 25, 171-77.) The Co-Trustees further asserted that 1.05 acres of their land should have been assessed as nontillable land because it was incapable of being farmed, and that their overall assessment was too high given their land's actual crop production capacity. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 158-70.)

         In response, the Assessor argued that the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims should be dismissed because the Indiana Board lacked the statutory authority to address them. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 148-49, 226-27.) The Assessor also claimed that her assessment should be upheld in its entirety because it comported with Indiana's assessment guidelines for agricultural property. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 200-19, 227-28.)

         On January 17, 2018, the Indiana Board issued its final determination that declined to address the Co-Trustees' annexation and storm water claims due to a lack of statutory authority. (See Cert. Admin. R. at 118-20 ¶¶ 12-13, 19.) The Indiana Board also determined that while the Co-Trustees had shown that 1.05 acres of their land should have been assessed as nontillable land, they failed to show that their assessment should be changed in any other manner. (See Cert. Adm in. R. at 119-20 ¶¶ 15-19.)

         On March 2, 2018, the Co-Trustees filed a petition for review with the Tax Court. The Tax Court heard oral argument on September 14, 2018. Additional facts will be supplied when necessary.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The party seeking to overturn a final determination of the Indiana Board bears the burden of demonstrating its invalidity. Osolo Twp. Assessor v. Elkhart Maple Lane Assocs., 789 N.E.2d 109, 111 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2003). Thus, the Co-Trustees must demonstrate to the Court that the Indiana Board's final determination is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity; in excess or short of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations; without ...


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