Washington County Bd. of Sup'rs v. Greenville Mill, a Div. of Mohasco Corp., 53577

Decision Date07 September 1983
Docket NumberNo. 53577,53577
Citation437 So.2d 401
PartiesWASHINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS and Mildred Klein, Tax Assessor of Washington County, Mississippi v. GREENVILLE MILL, A DIVISION OF MOHASCO CORPORATION, Friedman Iron & Metal Company and the Friedman Steel Company.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Robertshaw & Merideth, J. Robertshaw, George H. Slade, Greenville, for appellants.

Lake, Tindall, Hunger & Thackston, Jerome C. Hafter, Greenville, for appellees.

En Banc.

WALKER, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

This is an appeal from the Circuit Court of Washington County wherein the trial court found that the Washington County Board of Supervisors had misinterpreted section 112 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 when establishing a tax assessment ratio of twenty-five percent of true value for personal property and a ten percent ratio of true value for real property.

The lower court held, as a matter of law:

(1) Section 112 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended, requires that a taxing authority must impose the same percentage ratio of assessed value to true value to all taxable property and they may not assign a different assessment ratio to different species or classes of property.

(2) The utilization of different ratios of assessed value to true value in regard to personal property as opposed to real property by the Washington County Tax Assessor and Board of Supervisors in 1980 is unconstitutional and in violation of section 112, as amended, of the Mississippi Constitution.

This case raises for the Court's consideration the issue of whether the use of different assessment ratios 1 for different classes of property violates the "uniform and equal" clause of section 112, as amended, of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, which reads in part:

Taxation shall be uniform and equal throughout the state. Property shall be taxed in proportion to its value. Property shall be assessed for taxes under general laws, and by uniform rules, and in proportion to its value....

In American National Insurance Company v. Board of Supervisors of Harrison County, 303 So.2d 457 (Miss.1974), which involved the assessment of the real property (a shopping center) belonging to American National Insurance Company, this Court said:

Sections 211 and 217 of the Constitution of Alabama are similar to section 112 of the Mississippi Constitution. In construing its Constitution, the Supreme Court of Alabama, in State v. Alabama Power Company, 254 Ala. 327, 48 So.2d 445 (1950), held that railroads and public utilities could not be put in a class to themselves and their property could not be taxed on a basis different from that used for property of other taxpayers. The opinion states that all property subject to tax must be taxed uniformly or equally at the same rate and ratio of assessment no matter by whom owned. (Emphasis added).

303 So.2d at 459-460.

This court reached the same conclusion in Adams v. Mississippi State Bank, 75 Miss. 701, 23 So. 395 as early as 1897. 2 In Adams v. Mississippi State Bank, the Court quoted with approval from the dissent of Justice Chalmers in Mississippi Mills v. Cook, 56 Miss. 40 (1878) when discussing section 112 and the relationship between the term "uniformity" and the term "equality" in said section:

"What do they mean? The requirement of uniformity means that all property belonging to the same class shall be taxed alike--so that all horses shall be taxed at the same rate, and all lands or stocks or merchandise. There is to be no discrimination between property of the same class, and it shall not be competent to levy one rate upon country lands and another upon city lands, or one rate upon horses of one breed and another upon horses of a different breed."

75 Miss. at 720, 23 So. 395.

However, the Court went on to say:

"If the uniformity requirement stood alone, it would be competent to affix different rates to different kinds of property, and so to impose one rate upon all lands, and another upon all horses, and still another upon all stocks, and still another upon all merchandise. But this kind of discrimination is prohibited by the requirement of equality, by which it is made obligatory that the same rate shall be imposed on every kind and species of property that is subject to taxation." (Emphasis added).

75 Miss. at 720, 23 So. 395.

The Court concluded by saying:

This decision only goes to this extent, that when ad valorem taxes are levied there can be no discrimination in rates between one species of property and another; each dollar of property must pay its just proportion of tax; the burden of government must be adjusted equally. When the state undertakes to collect toll from her citizens, the hand of the tax gatherer must fall with equal weight upon all. So reads the plain letter of our organic law; so let it stand.

75 Miss. at 722, 23 So. 395.

The interpretation of constitutional provisions of other states similar to or analogous to ours has been so universal and consistent that it may fairly be said to be settled throughout the United States that such constitutional provisions forbid and prohibit discriminatory assessment ratios between real and personal property.

After exhaustive research, we are unable to find any State's highest court holding that a constitutional provision similar to ours authorizes different assessment ratios to be applied when taxing personal property.

In light of the multitude of authorities condemning the practice of discriminatory assessment ratios between different types of property, the legislatures of many States, including Mississippi 3, have adopted constitutional amendments which make provision for different assessment ratios to true value on certain properties. 4

In State v. Alabama Power Company, 254 Ala. 327, 48 So.2d 445, 453 (1950), it was stated: "Once property is made taxable there is but one classification and that classification is property under the very language of the constitution."

The opinion went on to explain the use of the word "classes or similar words" in the Alabama statute when used in regard to the assessment of property for taxation saying:

The use of the word classes or similar words in the statutes with respect to the assessment for taxation, Sec. 1-188, Title 51, Code of 1940, has no significance here. These statutes simply contemplate that in assessing property the taxpayer or tax assessor shall list all the different kinds and types of property owned by the taxpayer. On one sheet the taxpayer lists his real estate and improvements thereon and on another sheet he lists his personal property. The personal property is then broken down into a considerable number of different types, classes or species of property set out in the printed form. This does not mean that any different ratio of assessment or valuation shall be applied to any one species or class as distinguished from the others but on the contrary all must be alike, equal or uniform. The reason for enumerating the various species or classes of property is to make sure that the taxpayer is listing for assessment and taxation all his property and not omitting or overlooking any. (Emphasis added).

48 So.2d at 455.

There can be little or no question about the authority of taxing officials to classify property for tax-related purposes. However, the classification must have as its ultimate goals the inclusion of all taxable property on the assessment rolls and arriving at the true value of each and every item of property, regardless of its classification. Once the true value is determined, a uniform and equal ratio of assessment 5 must be applied thereto so as to arrive at the assessed value for the purpose of taxation.

We are therefore of the opinion that the circuit judge was eminently correct in holding that the utilization of different ratios of assessed value to true value in regard to personal property as opposed to real property by the Washington County Tax Assessor and Board of Supervisors in 1980 was unconstitutional and in violation of section 112, as amended, of the Mississippi Constitution.

ON CROSS-APPEAL

In granting Greenville Mill relief from the unconstitutional assessment of their property, the circuit court reduced appellee's assessments to the amount which would have resulted had all taxable property in Washington County been assessed at a single average ratio. This form of relief has been applied to several jurisdictions. 6

This procedure requires a determination of a "common ratio" or a "weighted average ratio" based on the total amount of property assessed at each ratio in the taxing district. The mathematical procedure is as follows: The total appraised or true value of all taxable property in the taxing district is divided into the total assessed value (at existing non-uniform ratios) to determine an average assessment ratio. Aggrieved taxpayers' assessments are then abated to this average ratio.

On cross-appeal, the appellee states in its brief:

[B]ecause the relief granted by the Circuit Court did not completely eliminate discrimination against them, and to avoid any waiver of their primary position, Appellees have filed a cross appeal seeking an abatement of their assessments to the 10% level.

They also state:

Appellees submit the relief granted by the Circuit Court was not unreasonable: Appellees do not seek a windfall by reducing their 1980 taxes beyond those due at a single equalized assessment ratio; thus, Appellees would accept affirmance of the Circuit Court relief.

The method used by the circuit judge was one of several alternative methods available to him. He undoubtedly felt that the method used was the most equitable to all parties, and the appellees do not seriously contend otherwise.

We are therefore of the opinion that the circuit judge did not abuse his discretion in utilizing the method which he chose and which is reflected in the judgment.

The judgment of the circuit court is...

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3 cases
  • Burrell v. Mississippi State Tax Com'n
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • August 10, 1988
    ...112 on at least two fronts. First, H.B. 388 violates the uniformity and equality clause, see, Washington County Board of Supervisors v. Greenville Mill, 437 So.2d 401, 403 (Miss.1983) and State Tax Commission v. Fondren, 387 So.2d 712, 723-24 (Miss.1980). Old Section 112 did not allow the s......
  • Rebelwood, Ltd. v. Hinds County
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 3, 1989
    ...uniformity and equality in taxation. City of Jackson v. Pittman, 484 So.2d 998, 999 (Miss.1986); Washington County Board of Supervisors v. Greenville Mill, 437 So.2d 401, 403-04 (Miss.1983); see also Calhoun County Board of Supervisors v. Grenada Bank, 543 So.2d 138, 140 (Miss.1988); State ......
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    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • July 20, 1988
    ...(Emphasis added.) This value is generally referred to as "true value." Miss. Const. § 112, as amended; Washington County Bd. of Supervisors v. Greenville Mill, 437 So.2d 401 (Miss.1983); State Tax Commission v. Fondren, 387 So.2d 712 The intangible value of a unitary banking system, i.e., o......

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