State Tax Commission of Missouri
|ALBERT J. SZCZEBLEWSKI||)|
|v.||)||Appeal # 15-16195|
|JAKE ZIMMERMAN, ASSESSOR||)|
|ST. LOUIS CO., MISSOURI,||)|
DECISION AND ORDER
The assessment made by the Board of Equalization of St. Louis County (BOE) is SET ASIDE. Complainant Albert J. Szczeblewski (Complainant) did not present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. Nevertheless, Respondent Jake Zimmerman, Assessor, St. Louis County, Missouri, presented substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE. Assessed value in money for the subject property for tax year 2015 is set at $13,300 residential ($70,000 true market value or TMV).
Complainant appeared pro se.
Respondent appeared by attorney Steven Robson.
Case heard and decided by Senior Hearing Officer Amy S. Westermann.
Complainant appealed on the ground of overvaluation. Respondent initially set the true market value (TMV) of the subject property, as residential property, at $107,700. The BOE sustained Respondent’s valuation. The Commission takes this appeal to determine the true value in money of the subject property on January 1, 2015.
The Senior Hearing Officer, having considered all of the competent evidence upon the whole record, enters the following Decision and Order.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- Jurisdiction. Jurisdiction over this appeal is proper. Complainant timely appealed to the State Tax Commission.
- Evidentiary Hearing. The Evidentiary Hearing was held on February 4, 2016 at the St. Louis Administrative Building, 41 S. Central Avenue, Clayton, Missouri, 63105.
- Identification of Subject Property. The subject property is identified by parcel/locator number 27Q520033. It is further identified as 68 Valley Park, Unincorporated St. Louis County, MO. (Exhibit 1).
- Description of Subject Property. The subject property consists of 2.76 acres of unimproved, vacant, wooded land situated on a hillside. (Exhibit 1)
- Assessment. Respondent set a true market value on the subject property at $107,700 residential.
- Board of Equalization. The BOE sustained Respondent’s true market value of the property.
- Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant offered two photographs contained on a cell phone as exhibits. Exhibit A was a photograph purporting to show a view from the front of the property looking northward into thick brush and trees, which extended from the viewpoint into the background. Exhibit B was a photograph purporting to show a view of the property from the bottom of a slope looking up an incline into the property. Exhibit B also showed a guywire for a utility pole in the foreground, thick brush and trees extending from the lower right side into the center middleground and background, and the edge of what appeared to be a small white building in the upper left background.
Complainant did not have printed copies of the photographs to exchange with Respondent. However, Respondent agreed to review Complainant’s photographs as presented on the cell phone during the evidentiary hearing. Complainant and Respondent agreed that Complainant would send the photographs via email to both the Commission and to Respondent following the evidentiary hearing so that they could be reproduced in physical form. Respondent did not object to the admission of Complainant’s exhibits into evidence, which were thereafter received into the record to be given such weight, if any, as deemed appropriate.
Complainant testified that no appraisal had been performed on the subject property within the previous three years and that the subject property had not been listed for sale within the previous three years. Complainant further testified that he did not believe the subject property was worth any particular amount of money but that, hypothetically, a buyer might offer $50,000 for it.
- Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent offered into evidence Exhibit 1, which consisted of an Appraisal Report (Exhibit 1) compiled by State Certified Residential Real Estate Appraiser Mark Stuart (the appraiser). In preparing Exhibit 1, the appraiser gathered basic data from a variety of sources, including public records, planning and zoning offices, other governmental and public offices, and various publications. The appraiser obtained specific information concerning the subject property by personally viewing the property from the street and analyzing the neighborhood to support his opinion of value of the property. Exhibit 1 contained photographs of the subject property. One of the photographs showed a view of the subject property that appeared to be similar to the view shown in Complainant’s Exhibit A. One of the photographs in Exhibit 1 showed a view of the subject property from the rear, which depicted a residential street and a sidewalk along the rear property line. Exhibit 1 indicated that the subject property is equipped with public utilities, namely electricity, gas, water, and sanitary sewer services. Exhibit 1 further indicated that the subject property was not located in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s identified 100-year flood plain. The appraiser opined a true market value for the subject property, as of January 1, 2015, of $70,000. Complainant did not object to Respondent’s Exhibit 1, which was received into the record.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND DECISION
The Commission has jurisdiction to hear this appeal and correct any assessment which is shown to be unlawful, unfair, arbitrary or capricious, including the application of any abatement. The Hearing Officer shall issue a decision and order affirming, modifying or reversing the determination of the board of equalization, and correcting any assessment which is unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary, or capricious. Article X, Section 14, Mo. Const. of 1945; Sections 138.430, 138.431, 138.431.4, RSMo.
Complainants’ Burden of Proof
In order to prevail, Complainants must present substantial and persuasive evidence as to the proper taxation of the subject property on January 1, 2015. Hermel, supra. There is no presumption that the taxpayer’s opinion is correct. The taxpayer in a Commission appeal still bears the burden of proof. The taxpayer is the moving party seeking affirmative relief. Therefore, the Complainant bears the burden of proving the vital elements of the case, i.e., the assessment was “unlawful, unfair, improper, arbitrary or capricious.” See, Westwood Partnership v. Gogarty, 103 S.W.3d 152 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003); Daly v. P. D. George Co., 77 S.W.3d 645 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002); Reeves v. Snider, 115 S.W.3d 375 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003); Industrial Development Authority of Kansas City v. State Tax Commission of Missouri, 804 S.W.2d 387, 392 (Mo. App. 1991).
Weight to be Given Evidence
The relative weight to be accorded any relevant factor in a particular case is for the Hearing Officer to decide. St. Louis County v. Security Bonhomme, Inc., 558 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo. banc 1977); St. Louis County v. STC, 515 S.W.2d 446, 450 (Mo. 1974); Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company v. STC, 436 S.W.2d 650 (Mo. 1968). The Hearing Officer is not bound by any specific method.
Owner’s Opinion of Value
Although an owner is competent to testify regarding the appropriate valuation of the owner’s property, “[w]here the basis for a test as to the reliability of the testimony is not supported by a statement of facts on which it is based, or the basis of fact does not appear to be sufficient, the testimony should be rejected.” Carmel Energy at 783. A taxpayer does not meet his burden if evidence on any essential element of his case leaves the Commission “in the nebulous twilight of speculation, conjecture and surmise.” See, Rossman v. G.G.C. Corp. of Missouri, 596 S.W.2d 469, 471 (Mo. App. 1980).
Board Presumption and Computer-Assisted Presumption
There exists a presumption of correct assessment by the Board of Equalization. In charter counties or the City of St. Louis, there exists by statutory mandate a presumption that the Assessor’s original valuation was made by a computer, computer-assisted method or a computer program – the computer-assisted presumption. These two presumptions operate with regard to the parties in different ways. The Board presumption operates in every case to require the taxpayer to present evidence to rebut it. If Respondent is seeking to prove a value different than that set by the Board, then it also would be applicable to the Respondent. The computer-assisted presumption only comes into play if the Board of Equalization lowered the value of the Assessor and Respondent is seeking to sustain the original assessment and it has not been shown that the Assessor’s valuation was not the result of a computer assisted method. The Board’s valuation is assumed to be an independent valuation. In the present appeal, the Board of Equalization sustained the valuation of the Assessor. Moreover, Respondent advocated a value less than the Board of Equalization value. Consequently, for two separate and independent reasons, the computer-assisted presumption does not come into play in the present appeal.
Methods of Valuation
Proper methods of valuation and assessment of property are delegated to the Commission. It is within the purview of the Hearing Officer to determine the method of valuation to be adopted in a given case. See, Nance v. STC, 18 S.W.3d 611, 615 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000); Hermel, supra; Xerox Corp. v. STC, 529 S.W.2d 413 (Mo. banc 1975). Missouri courts have approved the comparable sales or market approach, the cost approach, and the income approach as recognized methods of arriving at fair market value. St. Joe Minerals Corp. v. STC, 854 S.W.2d 526, 529 (App. E.D. 1993); Aspenhof Corp. v. STC, 789 S.W.2d 867, 869 (App. E.D. 1990); Quincy Soybean Company, Inc., v. Lowe, 773 S.W.2d 503, 504 (App. E.D. 1989), citing Del-Mar Redevelopment Corp v. Associated Garages, Inc., 726 S.W.2d 866, 869 (App. E.D. 1987); and State ex rel. State Highway Comm’n v. Southern Dev. Co., 509 S.W.2d 18, 27 (Mo. Div. 2 1974).
Opinion Testimony by Experts
An expert’s opinion must be founded upon substantial information, not mere conjecture or speculation, and there must be a rational basis for the opinion. Missouri Pipeline Co. v. Wilmes, 898 S.W.2d 682, 687 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995). The State Tax Commission cannot ignore a lack of support in the evidence for adjustments made by the expert witnesses in the application of a particular valuation approach. Drey v. State Tax Commission, 345 S.W.2d 228, 234-236 (Mo. 1961), Snider v. Casino Aztar/Aztar Missouri Gaming Corp., 156 S.W.3d, 341, 348 (Mo. 2005).
The testimony of an expert is to be considered like any other testimony, is to be tried by the same test, and receives just so much weight and credit as the trier of fact may deem it entitled to when viewed in connection with all other circumstances. The Hearing Officer, as the trier of fact, has the authority to weigh the evidence, is not bound by the opinions of experts who testify on the issue of reasonable value, and may believe all or none of the expert’s testimony, accepting it in part or rejecting it in part. Beardsley v. Beardsley, 819 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Mo. App. 1991); Curnow v. Sloan, 625 S.W. 2d 605, 607 (Mo. 1981); Scanlon v. Kansas City, 28 S.W.2d 84, 95 (Mo. 1930).
In the present appeal based upon overvaluation, Complainant failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of true market value advocated by Respondent at the evidentiary hearing. Complainant argued that the subject property was vacant and was not suitable for building due to its nature, i.e., a steep hillside covered in thick brush and trees. Complainant provided Exhibits A and B, which he argued show that the subject property would not appeal to a buyer and, therefore, could not have the value set by Respondent. Neither Complainant’s arguments nor Exhibits A and B constitute evidence as to the true market value of the subject property on January 1, 2015.
Conversely, Respondent presented substantial and persuasive evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the BOE and to set the TMV of the subject property at $70,000. Respondent’s appraiser considered all three approaches to value the subject property: the cost approach, the income approach, and the sales comparison approach. The appraiser ultimately utilized the sales comparison approach because the cost approach and the income approach were not applicable to valuing the subject property. The appraiser selected three comparable sales and made market-based adjustment to the comparables. The appraiser found that typical vacant building sites in the area near the subject property sell in the range of $17,300 to $44,500 per acre. The appraiser adjusted the comparables for differences in lot size at $7,000 per acre. The appraiser also made downward adjustments for two of the comparables situated on level lots. The appraiser found that all three comparable sales were from the same or similar marketing areas and were believed to provide a reasonable value estimate for the subject property.
The true market valuation for the subject property as determined by Respondent for the subject tax day and sustained by the BOE is SET ASIDE.
The assessed value for the subject property for tax years 2015 and 2016 is set at $13,300 residential ($70,000 TMV).
Application for Review
A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within thirty days of the mailing date set forth in the Certificate of Service for this Decision. The application shall contain specific facts or law as grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous. Said application must be in writing addressed to the State Tax Commission of Missouri, P.O. Box 146, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0146, and a copy of said application must be sent to each person at the address listed below in the certificate of service.
Failure to state specific facts or law upon which the application for review is based will result in summary denial. Section 138.432, RSMo
The Collector of St. Louis County, as well as the collectors of all affected political subdivisions therein, shall continue to hold the disputed taxes pending the possible filing of an Application for Review, unless said taxes have been disbursed pursuant to a court order under the provisions of Section 139.031.8, RSMo.
Any Finding of Fact which is a Conclusion of Law or Decision shall be so deemed. Any Decision which is a Finding of Fact or Conclusion of Law shall be so deemed.
SO ORDERED March 16th, 2016.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Amy S. Westermann
Senior Hearing Officer
Certificate of Service
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been electronically mailed or sent by U.S. Mail on this 16th day of March, 2016, to:
Albert Szczeblewski, Complainant, 50 Valley Park, Valley Park MO, 63088
Steven Robson, St. Louis County Associate County Counselor, SRobson@stlouisco.com