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Arizona Judicial Branch

Property Tax Training - Curriculum on the Web



Welcome to “Property Tax Appeals,” a self-paced online course where we will examine the ever-growing number of caseloads that have affected nearly every county in Arizona.

Maricopa County has been particularly inundated with these matters, and the only reason it has taken this long to get an accurate look at the situation was because good, verifiable numbers were not available. Hundreds of caseloads have been examined to determine what cases are still pending across the state.

Content and materials for this course came from a conference call conducted by Commissioner Rick Nothwehr on July 16, 2010. Images are taken from the commissioner's PowerPoint presentation, which may be downloaded in its entirety in the Materials section.

MATERIALS

Download the materials you'll need for reference as you take this course by clicking on their titles.

 The PowerPoint slides used in the original presentation

 The ST_TrainingManual (PDF)

To view the videos associated with this course, you will need Windows Media Player installed on your computer. Most late-model computers come with this program pre-installed. If you need to install it, contact your court's IT department, or click HERE to download the latest version.

In May 2010, a significant number of cases resolved themselves, a stroke of good fortune that left only nine cases going to Mohave County and 22 cases to Pima County. Some cases were kept that were already set for hearings – ones where the county attorney may have filed an answer to the complaint, but did not provide a copy to the division and the division did not set them over for a hearing. So for many of these cases, a hearing has never been set prior to the time of this training. While a minute entry has identified these cases, they were in a state of transition at the time of this training.

 

In this course we will take a brief walkthrough of the process involved in a property tax appeal and view video segments of an actual case. There is also a downloadable Question and Answer document at the end of this training that may address some concerns not covered in this course.



Matters for trial are generally set between 30 and 45 days out. Each hearing typically takes 30 minutes to complete; therefore they can be at 30-minute intervals. This may not seem like a lot of time, but many cases vacate because they are either settled or dismissed prior to going to trail.

Typically assessors deliver a copy of their case summary to the court between one and three days in advance of the hearing.

 

Before the trial there are a few things you will want to do to prepare for the hearing. One, try to ensure every judicial officer has a copy of the complaint when going into the hearing. This complaint is a standardized form called TXSC11F. There are significant parts of this form that will help in preparing for the hearing. In particular, paragraphs 4 and 5 identify the parcel number or address for the property being appealed, as well as the year for which the appeal is being done.

 

Second, review the assessor's case summary to understand what type of property you will be discussing in the hearing. You will want to know such facts as "is this property vacant land? Is it residential? Or is it some other type of property?

Your goal for each case is to go to the bench familiar with the property or parcel you will be hearing; in particular, you will want to know the property, parcel number and tax year. The tax year is important because it sets the date for the Fair Market Value (FMV) that you will be determining in the matter. The fair market value is always January 1 of the preceding year. You can find out more by reviewing the ST Guide download (ST Case Training Guide) available at the beginning of this course.

 


A tax appeal hearing generally is a four-part process:

1. Make introductions

2. Ensure everyone has the same copies of all the case documents

3. Swear in all litigants and hear their presentation of the testimony

4. Proceed to the ruling


During the introduction, remind the plaintiff that it is their burden to show not only that the assessor has made an inaccurate valuation, but also specifically to show what is the accurate valuation. Many times a litigant will say “I don’t know what my property is worth; I just know it’s not worth what they say it is.” Remind them that it is their job to establish that valuation so you can then make your determination and rule on that value.

 

While not applicable in other counties, you may be interested to know that in Maricopa County, plaintiffs are reminded that the statues presume the assessor's valuation is accurate and if nothing comes forward during the hearing to rebut that, the court should affirm the assessor's findings.

 

Tax appeal cases have somewhat relaxed rules of evidence in comparison to other types of cases. Since documents are not marked by the court as exhibits they do not formally have to be accepted by the court. This allows you to accept evidence that would not be considered in a traditional court setting. Be certain, however, that everyone has a copy of any evidence submitted in advance and that everyone has had a chance to review it.

 

Finally, make sure that all witnesses stand and be sworn in  and understand that although the rules of evidence are relaxed, everyone must still be honest and truthful with whatever they are about to present to the court. 




Documents can be accepted without foundation. The part that is key for the judicial officer is the weight – the relevance – of the information presented. For example, if someone is trying to show you information about the value of their property from 10 years ago you can accept it, and consider it, but realize that it’s not as strong as more recent information. Again, make sure everyone has a copy of each other’s exhibits so assessors and plaintiff alike are aware of the information each is bringing to the hearing.


At the Testimony stage, things are fairly straightforward: the plaintiff presents his or her information and the assessor gets a chance to respond. Generally, it is not a good idea to let the assessor question the plaintiff during the plaintiff’s testimony. It is better to inform the assessor that he or she can present information to contradict what may have been presented by the plaintiff, or comment on what the plaintiff has been presenting. However, contrary to not letting the assessor question the plaintiff, you should ask the plaintiff if he or she has any questions for the assessor after the assessor has testified. Sometimes you may have to guide the plaintiff to focus on questioning the assessor, and not bringing up a point or points already made during their testimony.





Your ruling will usually occur within 25 minutes or so of going into the courtroom. It must relate to a specific parcel number or parcel numbers and a tax year. In order for taxes to be properly levied when making your ruling, you will need to state an assessed value for each parcel number; you cannot give a cumulative value. For example, if there are three or four parcel numbers, you must state an individual value for each parcel number.

 

In the ST Case Training Guide you will find a Stipulated Judgment Form (Page 31) which is a standardized ruling form. Note on this form you do not have to make findings of fact, nor do you need to state you have weighed and balanced all the evidence. You simply need to find for Parcel Number X, that it is valued at amount Y for the previous year. For example: “The 2010 full cash value for Parcel No. 214-37-671 located in Mohave County, Arizona, (the “Subject Property”) shall be reduced from $221,358.00 to $140,000.00. The 2010 limited property value shall be determined pursuant to ARS 42-13301.”

 

In order to avoid creating any unnecessary burdens it is good practice to not attempt to explain how you arrived at your figures, particularly with multiple parcels. For example, you should not try to explain that comparable number one was too far away, comparable number 2 was not an arm's length transaction, and comparable number 3 property was substantially larger than the subject property.


Tax Law Video 1

It is important to establish the time period you are going to use when determining how to rule on the matter. Sometimes that time period can be as many as 18 months prior to the date you are actually hearing the case.  View Tax Law Video 2 for an example of how a plaintiff may present his case.


Tax Law Video 2

The parcel in question is an empty lot ready to build on. The plaintiff in the video presented his case very articulately and immediately presented his comparables. Notice, however, that he wanted to talk about current values as well as past assessments; the plaintiff began his case by talking about assessments some four years prior. Keep in mind these hearings are not to determine current assessment values, that the focus should be on more recent assessment values, and, most importantly in these hearings, to weigh all exhibited material appropriately.


From the video you can see the plaintiff did a lot of things right in presenting his case. He relayed that he had purchased this property after the foreclosure and paid substantially less than had the prior owner. He also stated he realized the purchase price was some 18 months after the date of trying to determine its value. He discussed comparables to other properties near him – for example, he noted his property does not have water or the same access as the other properties in his comparables. Also the plaintiff did what many plaintiffs do when they come to court – he talked about how much he is paying in taxes and hoping the hearing would result in a reduction. However, he realized that he was in court to determine property value and not taxes. If a plaintiff does not realize this when presenting at a hearing you may need to reinforce the purpose of the hearing is to determine property value and not change tax rates.


Tax Law Video 3



Tax Law Video 4


Tax Law Video 5


Tax Law Video 6

Tax Law Video 7 

Finally, let’s discuss Time Adjustment, which was shown in the Tax Law Video 7. In Maricopa County the assessors have been challenged about their comparables so frequently by the commissioners that they are now trying to use computer modeling to determine property values. For example, using computer algorithms they can determine if the price in July was X, then in January of that same year the price would have been Y. This type of modeling program is available and can be considered as evidence. However the question then becomes one of reliability, particularly when back-dating or front-dating the value of property sold. Again, the important thing to remember is to weigh all exhibited material appropriately, to include this new approach to determining values.

Thank you for taking this course. You can read additional questions and answers that arose during the original training by clicking the link below. In addition, download and submit the certificate to receive your certificate for 1 hour of COJET credit.

 Q&A

 Certificate