S.D. Supreme Court defers to S.D. lawmakers over state’s ag-property valuation system

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court won’t overrule policy choices set by the South Dakota Legislature.

In a decision publicly released Thursday, the justices chose to let stand South Dakota’s current system for determining production values of agricultural properties for tax purposes.

Patrick and Rose Mary Trask challenged the values placed on their ranch for 2016 by the Meade County Board of Commissioners, sitting as the Meade County Board of Equalization, and the county’s then-director of equalization, Kirk Chaffee.

The 11,091 acres in southern Meade County initially were valued at an average $539 per acre. Chaffee, now a state legislator, made discretionary adjustments that reduced the value to an average $519 per acre. The county board further reduced the value to an average $512 per acre.

The Trasks argued that the assessed value for their land was still “artificially high” because it didn’t reflect how the land is actually used.

Chaffee and the board had determined the property was 61% cropland and 39% noncropland, based on soil classifications that county assessors must use under state law.

Patrick Trask wanted his property classified as 23% cropland and 77% noncropland.

Justice Mark Salter wrote the Supreme Court’s unanimous 16-page decision. He recognized the Trasks’ argument that the land should be taxed according to its use, but concluded the choice wasn’t for the state’ high court to make.

“Instead, we must faithfully interpret and apply the statutes enacted by the Legislature for the specific purpose of departing from a market-based method of valuation for agricultural land. Lingering dissatisfaction with the resulting statutory procedure is best addressed by the Legislature, whose fact-finding committees and task force are uniquely situated to carefully study the impact of the productivity model statewide and propose legislative changes or adjustments.”

The full decision is here.

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