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= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; ENTRY ORDER
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; SUPREME COURT DOCKET NO. 2004-480
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; APRIL TERM, 2005
John Wardle  = ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp;  = ; &= nbsp; } = APPEALED FROM:
v. = &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; } = Property Valuation and Review Division
Town of Roxbury &= nbsp; &nb= sp;  = ; &= nbsp; }
} DOCKET NO= . PVR 2003-132
= ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp; In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Taxpayer appeals from a Property Valuation and Review Division determination valuing taxpayer’s property at $79,000 for the Town of Roxbury’s 2003 = grand list. Taxpayer challenges th= e state appraiser’s view of the evidence and urges us to reverse the decisio= n and assign his property a lower value. We affirm because taxpayer has not demonstrated reversible error. <= /p>
Taxpayer owns a single family cape-style residence on eleven acres in Roxbury, Vermont. The home is a not completely finished. In 2003= , the town listers set the property’s value at $81,000. Taxpayer appealed the valuation t= o the board of civil authority because he believed several characteristics of the property made it worth considerably less.= Specifically, the bathroom fixtures have rust stains; the bulk land= is swampy and contains valueless red pine trees; the septic system, while fun= ctional, violates local regulations; and the roof insulation on one of the outbuild= ings is made from brown asbestos, a hazardous material. After a hearing and site visit, t= he board lowered the listed value of the property to $79,000. Taxpayer appealed that decision t= o the state appraiser.
On August 12, 2004, the state appraiser held an evidentiary hearing at which taxpayer and one of the town listers testified. Both parties offered exhibits tha= t they believed supported their respective positions on the property’s fair market value. The state appr= aiser also conducted a site visit, and on September 14, 2004, he issued a written decision setting the value of the property at $79,000. In his decision, the state apprai= ser explained that taxpayer failed to overcome the presumptive validity of boa= rd of civil authority’s decision. Taxpayer filed the present appeal in this Court.
appeal, taxpayer argues that the state appraiser erred by (1) not reducing=
property’s value to reflect the stained bathroom fixtures; (2) rejec=
taxpayer’s argument to lower the grade of the bulk land from .8 to .=
(3) refusing to adjust the property’s value in light of the septic
system’s violation of local regulations for year-round residences; (=
finding that the residence has 1200 square feet of living space rather tha=
square feet as taxpayer suggested; (5) giving weight to the town’s
comparable properties in the decision rather than the comparable properties
taxpayer used in his analysis of market value; and (6) declining to reduce=
value to account for the hazardous asbestos in one of the outbuildings.
Before addressing taxpayer’s specific claims of error, we must correct what appears to be a misunderstanding of the presumptions that apply in proceed= ings before the state appraiser. = In his decision, the state appraiser concluded that taxpayer did “not overc= ome the presumption that the assessed valuation found by the Board of Civil Authority is valid.” T= he presumption applicable in property tax proceedings like this one disappears once the taxpayer produces some evidence contrary to the board’s val= uation. Town of Victory v. State, = 2004 VT 110, ¶ 18, 865 A.2d 373. Whatever the state appraiser may ultimately think of the weight of = the evidence, taxpayer need produce only some= admissible evidence of value to rebut the presumption. Vt. Elec. Power Co. v. Town of= Vernon, 174 Vt. 471, 472 (2002) (mem.).
In this case, taxpayer offered evidence of three properties he testified were comparable to his, and he offered his opinion of his property’s fair market value. Taxpayer’= ;s evidence was sufficient to burst the presumption that the town’s valuation was correct. See <= u>Jeffer v. Town of Chester, 138 Vt. 478, 480 (1980) (per curiam) (explaining t= hat taxpayer’s evidence, including his own opinion on the value of his property was enough to burst presumption in favor of town’s valuation). Once the town= 217;s valuation lost its presumptive validity, the state appraiser had to weigh = the competing evidence before him to determine the property’s fair market value. Although the state ap= praiser erroneously stated that the presumption was not rebutted, he went on to we= igh the competing evidence as if it were.&nbs= p; Thus, the erroneous statement was harmless.
The state appraiser’s evidentiary weight and credibility determinations = are at the heart of taxpayer’s appeal.&= nbsp; Because the state appraiser, as fact finder, has sole responsibilit= y for making those determinations, see Lak= e Morey Inn Golf Resort, L.P. v. Town of Fairlee, 167 Vt. 245, 249 (1997), taxpayer carries a heavy burden = on appeal. Unless taxpayer demonstrates that the state appraiser’s decision is not rationally derived from his findings, which must have an evidentiary basis, we will n= ot disturb the decision on appeal. Vt. Elec. Power Co., 174 Vt. at 472.
Taxpayer first claims that the sta= te appraiser should have reduced the value of the property because the bathro= om fixtures were stained with iron from the water serving the property. The state appraiser rejected taxpayer’s claim because he concluded that the problem could be eliminated with a filter system. Moreover, the below-average quality of the water serving taxpayer’s property was taken into account in the state appraiser= 217;s valuation. Taxpayer has not demonstrated that the state appraiser’s decision was irrational. Accordingly, taxpayer’s fir= st claim must fail.
Taxpayer next argues that the state appraiser should have lowered the grade of taxpayer’s bulk land to reflect the property’s poor quality ti= mber and its swampy character. Ta= xpayer offered only his own opinion to support this claim. A landowner’s opinion of va= lue is admissible evidence of the fair market value of real property. See Kachadorian v. Town of Woo= dstock,149 Vt. 446, 450 (1988) (reaffirming that an opinion of a well informed person based upon the purposes for which a piec= e of property is suited may be considered in determining fair market value). The state appraiser is not compel= led, however, to accept the opinion if he does not believe it because the state appraiser is solely responsible for credibility determinations. Town of Fairlee, 167 Vt. at 249.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> In this case, the state ap= praiser explained that taxpayer did not support his opinion by presenting evidence= that his land was graded higher than other similar land in the Town of Roxbury.= Under the circumstances, we canno= t say that the state appraiser erred in denying taxpayer’s request to redu= ce the grade of the bulk land.
third claim on appeal relates to the septic system serving his property.
Taxpayer testified that he was in=
by a town officer that the septic system to his property did not comply wi=
the town’s regulations for year-round residences. Taxpayer urged a downward adjustm=
reflect the apparent zoning violation.&nb=
The state appraiser considered taxpayer’s suggestion and
ultimately rejected it. He
explained that the record lacked any evidence that taxpayer’s septic
system had failed, and he noted that the sewage systems of several propert=
both parties used as comparables were valued the same as taxpayer’s.=
The evidence supports the state
appraiser’s findings, and those findings support his decision. Taxpayer’s third claim is,
Next, taxpayer takes issue with the state appraiser’s findings on the squa= re footage of his property. Tax= payer concedes that the parties measured the residence during a site visit and t= he measurement came to 1200 square feet of living space. But, taxpayer argues, one cannot = walk erect throughout the second floor of the home because of the ceiling angles. Thus, the town should consider the home to have only one and one-half stories and not two stories. The state appraiser’s decision shows that he considered the site-visit measure= ment to be accurate—whether one characterizes the home as a one and one-h= alf story or two-story home—and he was unpersuaded by taxpayer’s argument. Taxpayer has not demonstrated any irrationality in the state appraiser’s decision on = the home’s living space, and we therefore find no reason to disturb it on appeal.
The weight the state appraiser accorded the town’s evidence of comparable properties forms the basis of taxpayer’s fifth claim on appeal. Taxpayer argues that the properti= es he offered into evidence were more comparable to his property than the proper= ties the town used in its fair market value analysis. Again, questions of evidentiary w= eight and credibility are the province of the fact finder. Town of Fairlee, 167 Vt. at 249.<= /span> In any event, the state appraiser explained that taxpayer’s exhibits of comparable properties showed t= hat the properties were sold at less than their assessed values by $15,600 and $10,600. He also noted that = the evidence did not establish that taxpayer’s property was listed at a = value higher than its fair market value or that it was assessed at a higher percentage of fair market value than other similar properties in the Town = of Roxbury. We find no reason to overturn the state appraiser’s decision considering the evidentiary record.
Finally, taxpayer argues that hazardous asbestos insulation in the roofing of one o= f his outbuildings should have reduced the fair market value of the subject property. The state appraiser explained that taxpayer’s suggested reduction was not appropriate be= cause the building containing the asbestos was not considered in the town’s valuation. The state apprais= er did not err considering that the building is not included in the assessment.= p>
BY THE COURT:
John A. Dooley, Associate Justice
Denise R. Johnson, Associate Justice
Frederic W. Allen, Chief Ju= stice (Ret.),