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Teton County Property Taxes Soar As Property Values Climb Out Of Control

in Teton County/News
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images
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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

This is not the Jackson of Greg Prugh’s youth. 

Driving slowly through a congested downtown neighborhood full of three-story modern, cube-like houses with big windows and decks, Prugh ticked off price tags for the properties that had recently sold — $5 million, $8 million and $10 million listing prices are now the norm.

Finding a house – or condo, for that matter – under $1 million is pretty much unheard of at this point, Prugh said.

As a former developer and current founder and owner of Prugh Real Estate, he’s watched real estate prices double in the past two years as increasing numbers of out-of-state buyers snatch up high-cost properties, siphoning off supply while demand continues to rise.

“Two years ago, everything went crazy.” he said. “Values doubled and really started ripping. Now, we’ve reached a tipping point.”

The soaring cost of houses in Teton County has led to more than just a housing shortage that has caused many to sell their homes or move to neighboring communities more than an hour away.

Record-High Property Taxes

The rising values have also led to record-high property taxes, as evidenced by the tax notices sent out just sent out last week. 

Around 60% of Teton County residents saw property taxes spike by upwards of 30% to 50%. The remaining 40% saw even larger increases of 50% or higher.

“This is by far the biggest increase I’ve seen in the five years since I’ve been in office,” Teton County Assessor Melissa “Mel” Shinkle told Cowboy State Daily Monday. “It’s been really tough on people and left them with lots of questions.”

Shinkle said she’d just finished a phone conversation with a Jackson resident calling to inquire about his bill. Residents have a 30-day period in which to dispute their bills, and Shinkle said she’s heard from many.

The gentleman she spoke with was questioning the $27,000 increase over last year’s property tax bill. Shinkle explained his house was now assessed at $9 million, which came as a big shock to him. 

In Wyoming, property taxes are applied to land and anything attached to it, such as homes, buildings and fences, all at fair market value. Currently, industrial properties are taxed based on 11.5% of their value, while residential, agricultural and other property are taxed at 9.5% of their value. Wyoming counties then have the option of charging up to 12 mills, or $12, of tax for every $1,000 in assessed value.

Currently, Teton County levies 8 of its 12 mills, a figure determined by the county commission, which will revisit the topic in August.

Residents Shocked At Increase

Given the soaring property values, some residents have been shocked to learn just how much their properties were now worth, Shinkle said, and how much they can be charged in taxes.

“Most people don’t follow the housing market. They know that prices are up, and they’ve seen the sales, but unless they are looking at what their neighbor’s property sold for, they really have no idea how much property values have gone up,” she said.

For some customers, the conversation ends there. Others, however, respond like deer in headlights as they scramble to make sense of the figure.

These are the people who keep county assessors like Shinkle from sleeping at night.

“There’s always one person who haunts you,” she said.

For her, it’s a 93-year-old woman living in a coveted area of town where values have skyrocketed. The woman, who has lived and worked here for most of her life, is on a fixed income. 

Last year, her property taxes were $9,624. This year, however, they rose by almost 100% to total $19,558.

“What does she do?” Shinkle asked. “For people on fixed incomes, this is really hard on them.”

Legislative Action

Teton and other counties are in a real bind to offer solutions for these people, Shinkle said, and to date, there aren’t a lot to offer because changes to property tax policies must be handled at the legislative level.

To that end, Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, a member of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, helped shepherd a bill through the Legislature’s recent budget session that gives counties the authority as of July 1 to create an optional property tax refund program that takes effect.

Under the program, residents who qualify based on their incomes and assets can apply for a refund of up to 50% of their prior year’s taxes.

Currently, the state has a similar property tax refund program in place, but Yin said the committee brought the bill forward in the event that the Legislature decided not to appropriate funds for the program.

The local property tax refund program will take a year to get up and running, Yin estimated.

Yin also saw a 60% increase in his property taxes on his two-bedroom condo, which has more than doubled in value since he purchased it in 2018.

“Affordability in general is an issue as we experience growth,” he said. “The cost of living is pricing many people out who can’t afford to live here (in Teton County).”

He’s heard about the issue from many of his constituents, he said, and said one measure he plans to bring forth in the Legislature in the future is the homestead exemption, which would lower taxes for property owners who live in a particular county throughout the year.

“I’m hearing a lot from people who want to do more about property taxes and housing issues in general,” he said.

Where Do Property Taxes Go?

Though it’s exhausting, Shinkle said she doesn’t mind all the calls from her constituents questioning the skyrocketing taxes.

Approximately 75% of these taxes go to schools, she said, and this year Teton County will be contributing mightily.

The remainder goes to finance city and county services.

As of today, Teton County has an approximate market value of $33,789,565,552, which would amount to about $25.7 million in property taxes.

As someone moving to Jackson from Torrington, those figures are mind-blowing for Shinkle, who has sympathy for the residents who are struggling to pay their tax bills.

The first half of taxes are due by Nov. 10, and are considered delinquent after that point unless the total figure is paid by Dec. 31. After the first half is paid, residents then have until May 10 to pay off the bill.

As for relief programs, there aren’t many available, Shinkle said. Those who meet income qualifications can apply to defer payment of the second half of up to 50% of their property taxes up to 50%, although interest will be applied to the unpaid portion.

Those who are in default of taxes might also have their homes auctioned off if they fail to pay by the deadline.

“That’s the most disappointing part,” Shinkle said. “We don’t have much property tax relief in Wyoming. It’s tough, and people are not going to be able to live here.”

Lies, damned lies, statistics; Here are Cowboy State facts

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Sniffin coach design
Bill Sniffin points to the back of his motorhome which shows the Cowboy logo and words from a song by Chris LeDoux.
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By Bill Sniffin

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

– Mark Twain

You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, a motorcycle, and an airplane at last count.

I am down to a Ford Excursion, an all-wheel drive Lincoln sedan, and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome that we used to call Follow My Nose. Now it is emblazoned with the Wyoming Cowboy logo and the name of the song “Life is a Highway” by Chris LeDoux. The late Wyoming cowboy-singer was one of many folks who recorded that song. I like his version the best.

So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

 People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

My columns are usually limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers when I became an owner and publisher.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data – but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in my Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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