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John C. Krohn and Pamela J. Krohn v. Snyder County Board of Assessment Appeals

January 23, 2013

JOHN C. KROHN AND PAMELA J. KROHN, APPELLANTS
v.
SNYDER COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS RICHARD A. KROHN AND D. ELAINE KROHN, APPELLANTS
v.
SNYDER COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Gardner Colins, Senior Judge

Argued: December 12, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE COLINS

These consolidated cases involve the appeals of Richard A. Krohn and D. Elaine Krohn, husband and wife (the Krohns Sr.), and John C. Krohn and Pamela J. Krohn, husband and wife (the Krohns Jr.) (collectively, the Krohns), from the decisions of the Court of Common Pleas of the 17th Judicial District (Snyder County Branch) (trial court) denying their appeals from the reassessment of their respective properties by the Snyder County Board of Assessment Appeals (Board). We reverse.*fn1

The Krohns Sr. own a tract of land containing two acres in Snyder County (Barn Tract). There is a barn on the land. By notice dated January 20, 2010, the Board reassessed this property, changing the assessed value from $2,090 to $3,770, noting as the reason for change "the sale of land and the assessment of a home site not assessed previously." (Exhibit 2, Krohns Sr. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 55a.) The sale of land mentioned in the Board's notice was the transfer by the Krohns Sr. of their adjoining farm (Krohn Farm), to the Krohns Jr. The Snyder County Assessor's office has a longstanding policy of including a home site value to tax parcels for which that office determines that a residential home site constitutes the highest and best use*fn2 for the parcel, or a part of the parcel. (May 30, 2012 Opinion of the trial court (Krohns Sr. Tr. Ct. Op.), Findings of Fact (F.F.) ¶¶4, 10.) The Krohns Sr. filed an appeal with the Board and after a hearing, the Board denied the appeal, and the Krohns Sr. appealed to the trial court.

The Krohns Jr. are the son and daughter-in-law of the Krohns Sr. In December 2009, the Krohns Jr. acquired, by deed of gift from the Krohns Sr., the Krohn Farm, a tract of land containing 122 acres, more or less, of vacant land in Middlecreek Township, Snyder County. In 1996, the Krohns Sr. recorded a subdivision plan for this property (with one tract containing 101 acres, more or less, to the north of Hollow Road, and the other containing 19.97 acres to the south of Hollow Road), but neither of the two lots were ever separately conveyed, and the Krohns Jr. acquired the property as one parcel in their deed. (May 30, 2012 Opinion of the trial court (Krohns Jr. Tr. Ct. Op.), F.F. ¶¶3-4.) By notice dated January 20, 2010, the Board advised the Krohns Jr. of a new or adjusted valuation for Krohn Farm, from $16,640 to $18,610. (Id., F.F. ¶5.) The reason for change was noted as "the purchase of land."*fn3 (Exhibit 2, Krohns Jr. R.R. at 64a.) The Krohns Jr. timely appealed the reassessment, challenging the invalidity of the assessment change as a spot assessment, their appeal was denied, and they appealed to the trial court.

The trial court ruled that although the Krohns were correct in claiming that none of the reasons for a change in valuation of property set forth in Section 602.1 of the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law (Law)*fn4 , 72 P.S. §5453.602a applied to their respective properties, the reassessment of their respective properties was proper and necessary in order to comply with Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (commonly known as the Uniformity Clause).*fn5 The trial court explained that failure to reassess consistent with Snyder County's longstanding policy of assigning a home site to parcels of vacant land would violate the Uniformity Clause, because similarly situated properties would not be uniformly treated. (Krohns Sr. Tr. Ct. Op. at 4-5, Krohns Jr. Tr. Ct. Op. at 4-5.)

By stipulation to consolidate cases pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 513, the parties agreed that a conveyance of land from the Krohns Sr. to the Krohns Jr. gave rise to the change of assessment in both cases, and the same questions were involved in both appeals. On appeal to this Court, the Krohns argue that the trial court erred in denying their appeals from an alleged spot reassessment of their respective properties when the County's Chief Assessor conceded at trial that none of the changes in valuation set forth in the Law applied to their respective properties.

Section 602.1 of the Law, states:

Changes in Valuation - The board may change the assessed valuation on real property when (i) a parcel of land is divided and conveyed away in smaller parcels, or

(ii) when the economy of the county or any portion thereof has depreciated or appreciated to such extent that real estate values generally in that area are affected, and

(iii) when improvements are made to real property, or existing improvements are removed from real property or are destroyed. (italics added.)

72 P.S. §5453.602a.

We note first that the two-acre Barn Tract owned by the Krohns Sr. had been created by a previous subdivision at the time it was acquired, in 1986, and no theoretical homesite was added at that time. The Chief Assessor testified that there was no subsequent subdivision or conveyance of the Barn Tract. (May 3, 2012 Hearing Transcript (H.T.) at 12, 15, Krohns Sr. R.R. at 146a, 149a, Krohns Jr. R.R. at 158a, 161a.) With regard to the Krohn Farm, although the Krohns Sr. recorded a subdivision plan in 1996, neither of two proposed tracts were ever separately conveyed, and the trial court agreed that none of the reasons for a change in valuation of the property set forth in Section 602.1 applied. (Krohns Jr. Tr. Ct. Op. at 4.) However, the trial court ruled that the reassessment of both the Krohns Sr.'s and the Krohns Jr.'s properties did not ...


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