Wyoming Property Tax Refund Hits Record But Still Not Enough Relief, Some Say

An expanded property tax refund program where eligible homeowners could receive back as much as 75% of their previous year’s tax bill led to record participation, but many legislators say it’s not enough relief.

Leo Wolfson

June 04, 20246 min read

Cheyenne neighborhood 6 4 24
(Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Property tax relief in Wyoming was the biggest issue of the last two legislative sessions and continues to be along this year’s campaign trail.

Whether it provides enough relief for Cowboy State residents is at the heart of the debate, but there is a property tax refund program that’s been available in Wyoming for more than 20 years.

In some cases, it can substantially lower a homeowner’s tax bill, and has been in place for more than 20 years.

On Monday, the deadline to participate in this program and get a refund on 2023 property taxes closed to record participation, Wyoming Department of Revenue Director Brenda Henson told Cowboy State Daily.

The property tax refund program, as expanded this year, is eligible to all homeowners who’ve lived in the state for at least five years, make 165% or less of the median household income for their county or the state (whichever is higher) and live in the homes that they’re applying for a refund on.

People can receive back as much as 75% of their previous year’s tax bill, but no more than 50% of the median residential tax bill for their local county.

Henson said most refunds are reaching the 50% cap.

Unless an applicant’s tax liability is more than 10% of their household income, they cannot qualify for the refund unless they have assets valued less than $150,000 per adult member of the household.

The income limits have expanded a few times in recent years, from 75% of median income to 125%, to now 165%. This has caused participation in the program to double, Henson said.

“That opened up the door for a lot more people,” she added.

People Still Missing Out?

The Department of Revenue doesn’t know how many people aren’t participating in the program who could be, but it does know what percentage of people are participating as a fraction of the total people in particular income brackets around the state.

This stat doesn’t separate out renters, but it does give an impression that there may be more people in each county who could be participating.

About 72% of Wyoming homes are owner-occupied, according to the Department of Revenue. In 2023, no county had a participation rate higher than 21% in the refund program among all people making 125% or less than their median county income.

Although there are 93,437 households statewide that make 125% or less, around 10,000 applied for refunds, of which 8,813 were approved.

Henson believes most Wyoming residents are aware and taking advantage of the program if they are eligible for it. In addition, with every tax bill sent out, information is provided on the refund program.

“I think that because it is very targeted relief for those that meet the income, residency, asset numbers; I think it gets to the people that need help the most,” Henson said.

Still Not Enough

Even with the expanded base of people eligible for refunds, and record numbers applying for them, some legislators have criticized the program for requiring an application to participate. Others have referred to it as “socialistic” for its income-based caps, which means it’s not available to all Wyoming homeowners.

Henson said many people who have voiced concerns about rising property taxes haven’t done so because of their personal ability or inability to pay them, but for what they see as an unjust increase in tax rates.

This aligns with the perspective of state Rep. Tony Locke, R-Casper, who doesn’t consider the refund program to be legitimate tax reform.

“It’s a start, but reform needs to be in a place for everyone,” he said.

Locke said he’s grateful for the property tax refund program and believes it does help Wyomingites who need it most.

He said the program falls short in what he sees as a matter of principle, the ever-increasing property taxes from year-to-year that he believes eat away at true home ownership.

“By the time you sell, you’re ready to sell your house, you’ve replaced your mortgage that you’ve paid off with property taxes,” Locke said.

What’s ‘Socialistic’ And What’s Fair?

Many of the property tax relief proposals brought during the 2024 session did not come with income-based requirements; however, one of the most popular bills that Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed took into consideration existing home valuation. Gordon said since that bill didn’t benefit all Wyoming taxpayers, it was “socialistic.”

No matter a person’s income level, Locke said he finds perpetual property tax increases unjust. This runs contrary to the opinion of other lawmakers like House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, who has said he’s not interested in giving tax breaks to millionaires.

Locke pointed out that a 5% annual increase on home property taxes would result in a doubling of price after 14 years. After 29 years, that rate would quadruple from its original price.

“All of a sudden that’s not reasonable,” Locke said.

Legislation was passed during the 2024 session permanently capping year-to-year property tax growth at 4%.

Locke said he wants household income growth or consumer price index growth factored into property tax rates, which he also wants lowered to pre-COVID-19 levels of 2019.

“We need to get that starting point back to a reasonable level,” Locke said.

Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Bar Nunn, said he wants even more drastic solutions such as returning prices to levels seen in the year 2000 and basing property taxes on the purchase price of a home.

Allemand explained that he’s most concerned about elderly people living on fixed incomes and young families trying to buy their first homes, who may be able to barely afford their standalone monthly mortgage payments but not the added property taxes.

For those who can afford to buy a new home, he said the property taxes are fair. But someone who bought a home 30 years ago and is living on a fixed income may not be in as strong of a position to pay today’s tax rates.

“They can longer pay their property taxes and eat,” Allemand said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter