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CITY WILKES-BARRE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY AND WILKES-BARRE INN v. BOARD TAX ASSESSMENT APPEALS COUNTY LUZERNE (05/08/85)

decided: May 8, 1985.

CITY OF WILKES-BARRE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY AND THE WILKES-BARRE INN, A LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, APPELLANTS
v.
BOARD OF TAX ASSESSMENT APPEALS OF THE COUNTY OF LUZERNE, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County in case of In Re: Petition and Appeal of the City of Wilkes-Barre Industrial Development Authority and The Wilkes-Barre Inn, a Limited Partnership, No. 4079-C of 1982.

COUNSEL

John G. Whelley, Jr., with him, Edward A. Monsky, Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald, for appellants.

James V. Senape, Jr., with him, Sol Lubin, for appellee.

Judges Rogers, Craig and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle. Judge Williams, Jr. did not participate in the decision in this case.

Author: Doyle

[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 184]

This is a tax assessment case in which Appellants, City of Wilkes-Barre Industrial Development Authority and the Wilkes-Barre Inn, appeal from the order of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas which found the fair market value of Appellant's property to be $4,758,380.00 for the 1982 tax year.

Appellants are the owners of the Sheraton-Crossgates Hotel located in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. On December 22, 1981, Appellants appealed to the Luzerne County Board of Assessment Appeals (Board) from a 1982 tax assessment against their property in the amount of $970,340.00. On October 21, 1982, the Board affirmed this assessment, and an appeal was taken to the court of common pleas. A trial de novo was held on March 24, 1983, during which both the Appellants and the Board presented testimony on the issue of the property's fair market value. Although the witnesses of both parties used the capitalization of income, or income analysis approach*fn1 to reach their conclusion, the Appellants' witness arrived at a fair market value of $2,315,291.00 while the Board's witness arrived at a value of $4,758,380.00. Both parties agree that the ratio of assessed value to fair market value in Luzerne County was 21 percent.

[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 185]

The trial court found that the weight of the testimony favored the Board's evaluation of fair market value and, on July 12, 1983, dismissed Appellants' appeal.

On appeal to this Court, Appellants argue that the Board failed to present competent, relevant evidence on the issue of fair market value, and that therefore the court was required to accept Appellants' evidence on this issue in reaching its decision.

Our scope of review in a tax assessment appeal is limited; the findings of the Court below must be given great force and will not be disturbed unless clear error appears or there is an abuse of discretion or lack of supporting evidence. Appeal of Chartiers Valley School District, 67 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 121, 447 A.2d 317 (1982), appeal dismissed, 500 Pa. 340, 456 A.2d 986 (1983).

The order of proof in a tax assessment case is well established. Once the assessment record has been admitted into evidence, a prima facie case for the validity of the assessment has been established, and the taxpayer has the burden of coming forward with competent, relevant evidence to rebut the validity of the assessment. Once the taxpayer has met this burden, however, the taxing authority may no longer rely on the assessment record, and must come forward with evidence of its own to rebut the taxpayer's evidence. Dietch Co. v. Board of Property Assessment, 417 Pa. 213, 221-22, 209 A.2d 397, 402 (1965). "Where the taxpayer's testimony is relevant, credible and unrebutted, it must be given due weight and cannot be ignored ...


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