CORY ASHFORD v. LORI JONES, ASSESSOR, ATCHISON COUNTY, MISSOURI

June 3rd, 2022

STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI

CORY ASHFORD, )
Complainant(s), ) Appeal No. 21-41000
v. ) Parcel/locator No(s): 10-20-05-22-04-034-000300
LORI JONES, ASSESSOR, )
ATCHISON COUNTY, MISSOURI, )
Respondent. )

DECISION AND ORDER

 Cory Ashford (Complainant) appeals the Atchison County Board of Equalization’s (BOE) decision finding the true value in money (TVM) of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was $63,000. Complainant claims the property is overvalued and proposes a value of $50,000.  Complainant did not produce substantial and persuasive evidence establishing overvaluation. The BOE’s decision is affirmed.[1] Complainant appeared pro se.   Respondent was represented by counsel, Dan Smith. The evidentiary hearing was conducted on May 6, 2022.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Subject Property. The subject property is located at 206 S. Broadway, Fairfax, Atchison County, Missouri. The parcel/locator number is 10-20-05-22-04-034-000300. The subject property consists of a 1,303 square foot, single family ranch style home. The subject property features two bedrooms, one bathrooms, two car garage, deck and a basement.

2. Respondent and BOE. Respondent classified the subject property as residential and determined the TVM on January 1, 2021, was $63,000. The BOE classified the subject property as residential and independently determined the TVM on January 1, 2021, was $63,000.

3. Complainant’s Evidence. Complainant testified the TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was between $40,000 and $50,000. Complainant submitted Exhibit A, which includes pictures, a video, and a signed contract with Thrasher, Inc. for basement repairs, all of which are admitted into evidence. Complainant testified the property’s value decreased dramatically due to a flood caused by a levy break in May 2019 and submitted his photographs and video of the home during and after the flooding. (Exhibit A) Complainant testified that his property had 15 inches of water in the basement due to the flooding of the creek on his property, which was overflowing due to the levy break on the Missouri River. Complainant testified that he did some minor drywall repairs in June or July 2019. Complainant’s evidence includes a contract to which he has paid a $3,195.42 deposit for the repairs to his home, which would total $16,818.00. (Exhibit A) Complainant testified he had no flood insurance as his home was not in a flood zone. He testified his basement was not used as a bedroom but is used as a laundry area as of the date of the hearing. Complainant testified the house has not flooded again since May 2019. Complainant testified he is not a licensed appraiser or a person possessing appraisal training. Complainant submitted no appraisal of the subject property. Complainant testified he was aware of a similar property listed for sale which flooded and based his estimations of value in part on that home’s similarities.

4. Respondent’s Evidence. Respondent submitted the testimony of Lori Jones and Exhibit 1, Restricted Appraisal Report, conducted by appraiser Cris G. Wilmes.[2] Complainant objected to the admittance of Exhibit 1, due to untimeliness, as the “Order Setting Evidentiary Hearing” stated the document should be served on all parties seven days prior to the hearing. Ms. Jones testified that due to circumstances beyond her control, the exhibit was received from a third party on May 5, 2022, and, as soon as it was received, it was shared with all parties. In Missouri, “[c]ontested administrative proceedings are not subject to the technical rules of evidence, but the fundamental rules of evidence applicable to civil cases also are applicable in such administrative hearings.”  State ex rel. Heck v. City of Pac., 616 S.W.3d 387, 393 (Mo. App. E.D. 2020) (internal quotation omitted). Section 536.070(2) provides “each party … shall have the right . . . to introduce exhibits.”  Except for the Section 536.070(5) procedures for the admission of agency records, “[n]o mention is made of other procedures for admission of exhibits as a part of the record” in a contested case. Mo. Church of Scientology v. State Tax Comm’n, 560 S.W.2d 837, 839 (Mo. banc 1977).  Therefore, the procedure outlined within the STC Order is controlling over the issue. “The fundamental basis upon which all rules of evidence must rest – if they are to rest upon reason – is their adaptation to the successful development of the truth.”  Funk v. United States, 290 U.S. 371, 381 (1933). The late submission of the exhibit is not found to be willful or deliberate as Ms. Jones testified it was shared as soon as it was received, which was also prior to the hearing itself. Exhibit 1 is admitted into evidence as its admittance is in furtherance of successful development of the truth per Funk. Ms. Jones testified she has been Assessor for 32 years and has experience as a Residential Real Estate Appraiser. In Exhibit 1, Mr. Wilmes utilized the sales comparison approach to estimate the January 1, 2021, market value of the subject property. Mr. Wilmes concluded the market value was $65,000 in Exhibit 1. Ms. Jones testified she agreed with Exhibit 1’s conclusions. Ms. Jones testified that in her opinion as an appraiser, the flooding caused no permanent damage to the subject property.

5. Value. The TVM of the subject property on January 1, 2021, was $63,000.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

  1. Assessment and Valuation

Pursuant to Article X, Sections 4(a) and 4(b), Mo. Const. of 1945 real property and tangible personal property is assessed at its value or such percentage of its value as may be fixed by law for each class and for each subclass.  Article X, Sections 4(a) and 4(b), Mo. Const. of 1945.  Residential real property is assessed at 19% of its TVM as of January 1 of each odd-numbered year.  Section 137.115.5(1)(a). “True value in money is the fair market value of the property on the valuation date, and is a function of its highest and best use, which is the use of the property which will produce the greatest return in the reasonably near future.”  Snider v. Casino Aztar/Aztar Mo. Gaming Corp., 156 S.W.3d 341, 346 (Mo. banc 2005) (internal quotation omitted).  The fair market value is “the price which the property would bring from a willing buyer when offered for sale by a willing seller.”  Mo. Baptist Children’s Home v. State Tax Comm’n, 867 S.W.2d 510, 512 (Mo. banc 1993).   Determining the TVM is a factual issue for the STC.  Cohen v. Bushmeyer, 251 S.W.3d 345, 348 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008). The “proper methods of valuation and assessment of property are delegated to the Commission.”  Savage v. State Tax Comm’n, 722 S.W.2d 72, 75 (Mo. banc 1986).

 “For purposes of levying property taxes, the value of real property is typically determined using one or more of three generally accepted approaches.”  Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 346.  The three generally accepted approaches are the cost approach, the income approach, and the comparable sales approach.  Id. at 346-48; see also St. Louis Cty. v. Sec. Bonhomme, Inc., 558 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Mo. banc 1977).

The comparable sales approach “is most appropriate when there is an active market for the type of property at issue such that sufficient data are available to make a comparative analysis.”  Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 348.  For this reason, the comparable sales approach is typically used to value residential property.  “The comparable sales approach uses prices paid for similar properties in arms-length transactions and adjusts those prices to account for differences between the properties.”  Id. at 347-48 (internal quotation omitted).  “Comparable sales consist of evidence of sales reasonably related in time and distance and involve land comparable in character.”  Id. at 348.

  1. Evidence

The hearing officer is the finder of fact and determines the credibility and weight of the evidence.   Kelly v. Mo. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., Family Support Div., 456 S.W.3d 107, 111 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015).  The finder of fact in an administrative hearing determines the credibility and weight of expert testimony.  Hornbeck v. Spectra Painting, Inc., 370 S.W.3d 624, 632 (Mo. banc 2012).  “It is within the purview of the hearing officer to determine the method of valuation to be adopted in a given case.” Tibbs v. Poplar Bluff Assocs. I, L.P., 599 S.W.3d 1, 9 (Mo. App. S.D. 2020).   The hearing officer “may inquire of the owner of the property or of any other party to the appeal regarding any matter or issue relevant to the valuation, subclassification or assessment of the property.”  Section 138.430.2. The Hearing Officer’s decision regarding the assessment or valuation of the property may be based solely upon his inquiry and any evidence presented by the parties, or based solely upon evidence presented by the parties. Id.

  1. Complainant’s Burden of Proof

The BOE’s valuation is presumptively correct.  Rinehart v. Laclede Gas Co., 607 S.W.3d 220, 227 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020).  To prove overvaluation, a taxpayer must rebut the BOE’s presumptively correct valuation and prove the “value that should have been placed on the property.”  Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 346.  The taxpayer’s evidence must be both “substantial and persuasive.”  Id.  “Substantial evidence is that evidence which, if true, has probative force upon the issues, and from which the trier of fact can reasonably decide the case on the fact issues.”  Savage, 722 S.W.2d at 77 (internal quotation omitted).  Evidence is persuasive when it has “sufficient weight and probative value to convince the trier of fact.”  Daly v. P.D. George Co., 77 S.W.3d 645, 651 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002); see also White v. Dir. of Revenue, 321 S.W.3d 298, 305 (Mo. banc 2010) (noting the burden of persuasion is the “party’s duty to convince the fact-finder to view the facts in a way that favors that party”). A taxpayer does not meet his burden if evidence on any essential element of his case leaves the STC “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).

  1. Complainant Did Not Prove Overvaluation.

Complainant’s evidence alleges the subject property’s value is between $40,000 and $50,000. Complainant’s argument in support of this value is that Respondent’s methods of mass assessment fail to value individual properties properly and various repair issues affecting the overall condition of the subject property do not support any increase in the TVM of the subject property. Complainant’s submission of pictures and testimony regarding condition is not a method used to find a TVM for a property. The comparable sales approach is the method used to determine the TVM of the subject property. “The comparable sales approach uses prices paid for similar properties in arms-length transactions and adjusts those prices to account for differences between the properties.”  Snider, 156 S.W.3d at 347-48 (internal quotation omitted). Complainant’s evidence does not make adjustments to comparable properties to find a proper appraisal comparison. While a property owner’s opinion of value is generally admissible, the opinion “is without probative value where it is shown to have been based upon improper elements or an improper foundation.”  Shelby Cty. R-IV Sch. Dist. v. Herman, 392 S.W.2d 609, 613 (Mo. 1965); see also Cohen v. Bushmeyer, 251 S.W.3d 345, 349 (Mo. App. W.D. 2008) (noting a property owner’s opinion of value loses probative value when it rests on an improper foundation). Complainant presented no appraisal of the subject property in order to determine a value of the subject property. See Cohen, 251 S.W.3d at 349 (holding a landowner’s opinion of value lacks probative value when there is “no other evidence as to what he based his opinion on or how he arrived at his opinion of [value]”). Complainant’s alleged valuation is based on improper elements and therefore is speculative. Overall, the condition issues submitted by Complainant are not persuasive evidence to demonstrate how the value of the subject property is $40,000 to $50,000.

The assertions within Complainant’s testimony, which discuss Respondent’s supposed errors in methodology and alleged incorrect assessments, are not substantial and persuasive evidence that the BOE’s valuation of the subject property is erroneous. General assertions about the shortcomings of the methodology of Respondent and how such methodology causes increases to certain properties do not speak specifically as to the TVM of the subject property.

Although not required given the burden of proof, Respondent presented Exhibit 1 and testimony that the data in Exhibit 1 supported the BOE’s valuation of the subject property. Respondent’s evidence persuasively supports the TVM of $63,000.

CONCLUSION AND ORDER

The BOE decision is affirmed.  The TVM of the subject property as of January 1, 2021, was $63,000.

Application for Review

A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within 30 days of the mailing date set forth in the certificate of service for this decision. The application “shall contain specific detailed grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous.”  Section 138.432.  The application must be in writing, and may be mailed to the State Tax Commission, P.O. Box 146, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0146, or emailed to Legal@stc.mo.gov.  A copy of the application must be sent to each person 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.

Disputed Taxes

The Collector of Atchison 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.

SO ORDERED June 3, 2022.

STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI

Erica M. Gage

State Tax Commission

Certificate of Service

I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing has been electronically mailed and/or sent by U.S. Mail on June 3, 2022, to:

Complainant(s) and/or Counsel for Complainant(s), the County Assessor and/or Counsel for Respondent and County Collector.

Amy S. Westermann

Chief Counsel

[1] Complainant timely filed a complaint for review of assessment.  The State Tax Commission (STC) has authority to hear and decide Complainant’s appeal.   Mo. Const. art. X, Section 14; section 138.430.1, RSMo 2000.  All statutory citations are to RSMo 2000, as amended.

[2] The exhibit at issue consisted of statements made by individuals not present at the evidentiary hearing. Hearsay evidence is objectionable because the person who makes the statement offered is not under oath and is not subject to cross-examination.” Saint Louis Univ. v. Geary, 321 S.W.3d 282, 291 (Mo. banc 2009). Exhibit 1 is hearsay given that no foundation was laid for its admission, but Complainant made no objection to its admittance; therefore, the exhibit is admitted and given the weight deemed appropriate.