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— Jeff Wyant’s persistence helped convince the Benton County Equalization Board to lower his real estate’s value from $301,150 in 2005 to its current $100,300.

Now the rural Rogers man wants Benton County Judge Dave Bisbee to order the county to reimburse him for a portion of the property taxes paid in 2007 and last year.

Wyant seeks $1,267, plus 10 percent interest.

“My case is an erroneous assessment that my house is complete,” Wyant told Bisbee during a hearing Thursday to decide if he’s owed a refund.

“When (the assessor’s office representative) sees plastic covering the second-floor windows, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s not complete.”

Benton County Assessor Bill Moutray said Wyant isn’t owed a refund.

Wyant, 62, suggests his case is one with statewide implications, and former state legislator Bisbee, elected county judge last year, suggested as much in his comments during the county court hearing.

Wyant has lived 15 miles east of Rogers in his 2,560-square-foot home on 72 acres since 1986, but he said he’s never gotten around to finishing the home’s construction. The master bedroom upstairs is more of a workshop than a place for sleep.

Two bedrooms were for his daughters, but after a divorce two decades ago, it didn’t make sense to complete the work.

“My daughters aren’t there,” Wyant said after Thursday’s hearing. “Why do I need to finish them?”

Bisbee said he must determine if an “erroneous error” was made by the county assessor and also decide what constitutes a completed structure.

“I’ve lived in my house for39 years, and I think it’s complete, but my wife thinks it’s still not complete,” Bisbee said. “Both questions could have statewide ramifications.

This judge is not going to make a mistake. You deserve a good, written ruling in the next two weeks.”

Moutray agrees the house isn’t complete as one of his office’s appraisers determined last year, but Moutray contends Wyant had an obligation to let the county know it wasn’t done.

“I’m holding him responsible for telling us,” Moutray said.

Other Arkansas county assessors disagree about whether Wyant deserves to be reimbursed by Benton County for past years. The Arkansas Assessment Coordination Division’s attorney said Friday it doesn’t sound as if Wyant should get a refund based on state law.

“The (state) Supreme Court has said on many occasions that if you pay a tax, it’s voluntary and it’s not refundable,” said Bob Leslie, the attorney.

LOWER VALUE

Wyant convinced the Equalization Board to help him in 2005 when board members agreed to lower the value of his home and land from $301,150 to $162,800.

When Moutray raised the value to $181,300 during countywide reappraisal last year, Wyant successfully challenged the assessor’s value again. The Equalization Board sent assessor’s office appraiser Martin Brewer to the house and he determined Wyant’s contention that the house wasn’t complete was correct.

It was 70 percent done, Brewer told the board.

The guidance caused the Equalization Board to reduce the home’s value to $79,250, and the combined value of the home and land is now $100,300.

According to Act 1567 of 2001, property values may be lowered or raised for only three reasons:

The “assessment is unfair compared with other properties of the same kind that are similarly situated.”

The assessment is “manifestly excessive.”

The assessment is “clearly erroneous.”

A property owner unhappy with an equalization board decision may appeal his case to the county judge who serves as the county court for property assessment appeals.

It’s the “erroneous” provision that Wyant says is most relevant.

Assessors statewide agree about some aspects of what “clearly erroneous” means. If an 1,800-square-foot house is listed by the county as having 2,000 square feet, that’s a mistake any assessor can fix by examining the home again.

Arkansas Code Annotated 26-35-901 allows the assessor’s office to go back for three years in a bid to reimbursemoney owed to a taxpayer.

“It has to be something that’s our fault like square footage,” said Ronnie Dale, chief real estate appraiser for Sebastian County Assessor Becky Yandell.

However it was Wyant’s responsibility to advise the assessor’s office that his home was incomplete, and Dale wondered why he didn’t raise the issue prior to last year.

“He should have told the Equalization Board in 2005, and he should have taken care of it then,” Dale said.

Washington County Assessor Lee Ann Kizzar agreed Wyant should have brought the incompleteness of the house up sooner. Assessors don’t enter homes unless they are invited in so they must base a home’s value on what they can see from the outside.

“But if there was an error in the assessment on the percentage that was complete, I’d go back and adjust it,” Kizzar said.

That happened last year in Washington County, infact, Kizzar said. A condominium builder brought in records to show he paid property taxes as if the properties were finished, and he provided construction records to show they weren’t done.

“We gave him a reimbursement,” Kizzar said.

FAIR TREATMENT

Wyant claims he’s been denied “fair and courteous treatment” by workers in Moutray’s office as he’s tried to learn about property tax laws, and the tension between Moutray and Wyant was obvious as Wyant’s case was presented to Bisbee.

“I’ve been given a hard time as I’ve tried to pursue this,” Wyant told Bisbee.

Bisbee cut him off.

“I don’t want it to be a gripe session,” Bisbee told him. “At this point, you are talking to the court.”

Moutray told Bisbee he’d heard Wyant say “erroneous 150 times” and that he still didn’t know what was erroneous, and that state lawdoesn’t allow a refund.

Debra Asbury, the director of the Arkansas Assessment Coordination Division, said Friday that she shares Moutray’s position that a refund would be improper.

Arkansas Code Annotated 26-35-901 and its mention of three years of reimbursement can’t be considered without an examination of 26-28-111, said George Spence, a Bentonville attorney who works as the Benton County attorney. He said that part of the state’s code discusses “obvious errors” and a house that’s incomplete on the inside isn’t something an assessor would know.

Bisbee said he knows the appraiser’s visit to Wyant’s home was an opinion of completion rather than a fact like a house’s square footage or the number of acres someone owns.

“We didn’t find precedence real easy in this instance so we could be setting precedence, so I want to be careful,” he said.

News, Pages 9 on 10/28/2009

Print Headline: Assessors monitoring property tax appeal

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