West Virginia Record

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Supreme Court upholds valuation of Mercer Mall in $9 million dispute with property owner

State Supreme Court

By Kyla Asbury | Mar 27, 2019

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that an assessment performed by the Mercer County Assessor's Office was fair and equitable.

Mercer Mall appealed a 2018 order from Mercer Circuit Court that determined the assessment of just over $19 million was proper, according to the March 11 memorandum decision.

"This court has considered the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal," the decision states. "The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error."

The real property assessment of the Mercer Mall, a regional enclosed shopping mall in Bluefield, was done by Mercer County Assessor Sharon Gearhart for the 2017 tax year and was assessed at $19,011,800.

On Feb. 6, 2017, Mercer Mall appeared before the Mercer County Commission, sitting as the Board of Equalization and Review, to contest the assessment by the assessor. It provided the appraisal of Mike Hazelwood, a licensed general appraiser, who performed an appraisal of the mall in 2017 and appraised its value at $10 million.

The commission determined on Feb. 27, 2017, that the Hazelwood appraisal was based on the income approach, rather than the cost approach and was therefore inapplicable. It then voted that the assessor's assessment was correct. The mall then appealed to Mercer Circuit Court.

The circuit court determined the record was inadequate to support the commission’s ruling and remanded it back for development of the record. At a hearing on Nov. 29, 2017, the commission again determined that the assessor's valuation was proper

On Feb. 16, 2018, the commission reported its findings to the circuit court and the report noted the majority of assessors in West Virginia use the “cost-minus depreciation” method to arrive at an appraised value, and using that method, the assessor assessed the Mercer Mall at $19,011,800 for 2017.

The commission also noted the petitioner submitted an appraisal that used the income approach to appraise value, but asserted the income approach is typically only used for low-income housing properties, and not to assess commercial properties, according to the decision.

On Feb. 21, 2018, the circuit court found the commission did not abuse its discretion and properly appraised the value of the Mercer Mall. The mall then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The mall claims the circuit court erred by upholding the commission’s finding that it would only consider an appraisal using the cost approach to valuation and rejecting the Hazelwood appraisal presented by petitioner.

"Here, petitioner did not demonstrate that the County Commission abused its discretion in declining to adopt the income approach to valuation," the decision stated. "The record reflects that the assessor was not provided income information for the Mercer Mall in order to conduct its own appraisal using the income approach."

The court ruled that it is reasonable that the assessor and the commission would decline to adopt an appraisal that used unsubstantiated income information provided by the petitioner in applying the income approach to valuation.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 18-0213

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Mercer Circuit Court West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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