Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Unanimously for Firm’s Client in Property Tax Case

On March 14, 2019, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that taxpayers need not operate their farms for a business purpose in order to have their farms classified as agricultural land for property tax purposes. The case is State ex rel. Peter Ogden Family Tr. of 2008 v. Bd. of Review, 2019 WI 23.

The firm’s clients, Peter Ogden and Terri Mahoney-Ogden, operate a small farm on approximately 12 acres of land near their home in the Town of Delafield, where they grow and harvest apples, hay, and Christmas trees. Despite previously assessing the property as “agricultural land” from 2012 through 2015, in 2016 the Town’s tax assessor changed the property’s classification to “residential”—even though the Ogdens had never stopped farming the land. The change in classification drastically increased the Ogdens’ property tax burden.

The Ogdens objected to the change in classification in a hearing before the Board of Review for the Town of Delafield. The tax assessor asserted that the Ogdens did not operate their farm sufficiently as a business. Even under this business standard, two members of the Board of Review still ruled for the Ogdens, though two did not. The tie went to the tax assessor and against the Ogdens. The Ogdens appealed.

The case ultimately made its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. There, the Court ruled, 7-0, that the tax assessor was incorrect. “No statute, administrative rule, or case law supports a business purpose requirement for the ‘agricultural land’ property tax classification,” the Court wrote.

Paul Zimmer of OCHDL, who represented the Ogdens in the case, explained to the Associated Press that the Court’s decision will help ensure uniformity in how agricultural land is taxed.

“Hopefully after today assessors won’t come to these off-hand conclusions about what’s not really in the law,” Zimmer said. “The whole purpose of the law is to help preserve Wisconsin’s farmland. This decision will help stop assessors from coming up with some other reason to change the classification. It’s good for small farmers around the state.”

Paul Zimmer helps clients with a wide variety of civil litigation matters, including property tax objections and land use disputes, as well as real estate, construction, and other lawsuits.

Paul can be reached by phone at 414-276-5000 or by email at Paul.Zimmer@wilaw.com.