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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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3/4/2014 2:58:00 PM
Ag tax trial pits landowners against county assessor

Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier


An Arizona Tax Court case involving some of Yavapai County's biggest ranches is going to trial this week.

The ranchers, who combined own 430,000 of the approximately 750,000 private agriculture acres in the county, say Yavapai County Assessor Pam Pearsall is valuing their land too high.

Judge Dean Fink already ruled Friday on a major issue, saying that it's up to Pearsall whether to include public land lease values when calculating the value of ag acres. Leases on public lands typically are cheaper than private lands.

Fink said the trial would go forward today so he can determine whether Pearsall categorically excluded public leases or excluded them after review because she thought they weren't typical arm's length rental agreements between parties of equal standing. Pearsall said it was the latter, that the agreements were not typical.

Arizona Tax Court trials take place at the Maricopa County Superior Court building in Phoenix. The trial could take as long as four days.

The lawsuit was filed back in late 2011 against Pearsall, Yavapai County and the Arizona Department of Revenue because Pearsall in February 2011 raised the full cash value of grazing land from $7.56 per acre in the 2011 taxable year to $25 per acre in 2012. State law requires assessors to base grazing land value on actual income.

The county had used the $7.56/acre value since 1987, according to documents filed in the lawsuit.

Pearsall based her value on an Arizona Department of Revenue analysis of only 58,000 acres of grazing land rentals, the tax appeal charged.

The Arizona Cattle Growers Association, which joined the lawsuit, later commissioned its own study of the average value of grazing land and concluded it was only $3.54/acre, the lawsuit states. That study looked at 650,000 private grazing acres and more than four million public acres, the association stated.

Pearsall said she subsequently updated her valuation process to consider the condition of the land. While it still averages around $25/ acre, it varies by township and range.

The plaintiffs filed a new appeal of that valuation method, since it still doesn't include public land leases.

Attorneys on both sides were not available Monday.



Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder



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