Monroe assessment correct, Justices rule

By Steve Korris | Dec 18, 2009

CHARLESTON – Monroe County assessor Donna Huffman made no mistake in taxing luxury lots at $26,900 per acre, the Supreme Court of Appeals has decided.

All five Justices in a Nov. 25 opinion agreed that Huffman's valuations in Walnut Springs Mountain Reserve did not violate constitutional rights of developer Mountain America LLC.

Mountain America did not prove valuations were excessive or Huffman systematically undervalued comparable property, Chief Justice Brent Benjamin wrote.

He wrote that Huffman correctly relied on a state tax department notice providing that a subdivision may stand alone as a neighborhood if it is unique.

"The assessor determined that there was no comparable development in the county offering the amenities and covenants touted by Walnut Springs," he wrote.

"Mountain America was not able to show that the properties within Walnut Springs were in fact comparable to surrounding properties," he wrote.

"In fact, rather than being comparable, Walnut Springs lots were touted to be unique, superior, and more valuable than surrounding properties," he wrote.

Walnut Springs covers about 1,000 acres on Bud Ridge Road near Union. Mountain America has sold tracts there for five years.

"Walnut Springs remains in the early stages of development," Benjamin wrote.

He wrote that Huffman consulted with the state revenue department before creating a new neighborhood.

She compiled a list of sales for the year ending June 30, 2006, he wrote, and calculated the price per acre at $29,236.

To accommodate owners, he wrote, she struck the two highest sales and the two lowest sales and reduced the valuation to $28,502.

Through software entries, he wrote, she dropped it to $26,900.

That brought the total taxable value of sold lots to $9,167,160, he wrote.

The county commission affirmed the assessments in 2007, and Circuit Judge Robert Irons affirmed them last year.

John Hussell IV, Katie Hoffman and Joseph Buch, all of Dinsmore and Shohl in Charleston, represented Huffman.

Paul Papadopoulos, of Robinson and McElwee in Charleston, represented the county commission.

Michael Caryl, Robert Kiss, and Heather Harlan, all of Bowles Rice McDavid Graff and Love in Charleston, represented Mountain America.

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