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Park County Property Taxes Explode; Assessor Calls For Tax Cap

in News/Taxes

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

In his 37 years with the Park County Assessor’s Office, county assessor Pat Meyer said he’s never seen anything like it. 

This spring, his county experienced the largest increase in property taxes he has ever seen, with spikes of 25% to 45% from the previous year. 

A recent visit from an 87-year-old living on a fixed income of $2,029 per month brought home the stark reality of the situation.

“It will take him a month and a half just to pay his (property) taxes off his Social Security,” Meyer said.

Meyer said there have been similar increases occurring throughout the state. In Teton County, around 60% of residents saw property taxes spike by upwards of 30% to 50%. The remaining 40% saw even larger increases of 50% or higher. Similar increases have been reported in Sheridan, Fremont and Lincoln counties. 

The dramatic increases have changed Meyer’s mind about efforts to cap property tax growth in Wyoming in the range of 5% to 10% per year.

“I’m not going to sit back and do nothing with this problem,” he said. “When’s the end? I don’t know. But we do not want to turn into a Jackson Hole and we do not want to tax people out of their houses.”

Meyer actually lobbied against a limit on property tax increases in early 2021, mentioning to the Legislature’s Revenue Committee at that time, “when people go to sell their house, they like our values up,” explaining that assessors follow the market in their tax assessments. 

But that was before Park County and many other Wyoming counties saw large property tax increases in 2021 and an even more dramatic surge this spring.

“I’m allowed to change my mind,” Meyer said. “I was against it before I saw what was going on with Park County.”

Meyer said after that meeting, he started researching questions that had been left unanswered by legislators before. He began comparing local growth on a national level and researching the laws of other states, finding valuable information on property tax limits that exist elsewhere in places like Arizona and Oklahoma. 

In Arizona, the state, working from fair market value, caps property value growth at 5% and also mandates that a homeowner’s property value has to increase by more than 15% before the taxes on it can be raised by more than 5%.

Cody resident Tim Lasseter has criticized Meyer for changing his stance on this issue.

“He has been in office a long time and a great deal of weight is placed on his opinion,” Lasseter said. “He could have had a positive impact on that (Revenue) committee for the benefit of the taxpayers of Park County and across the state. He chose instead to help kill the very type of legislation he now claims to support.”

The proposed 2021 bill was HB 99, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. The bill would have capped property tax growth at 3% each year, which Meyer said is an ideal market increase. 

The bill died on introduction in the House. A similar bill that would have capped property tax increases at 5% was also introduced in the Senate this year but died in the Revenue Committee by a 5-4 vote.

“We must stop these out-of-control property tax increases,” Gray said in a Friday press release. “The bill I brought in the 2021 Session, HB99, is the gold standard and what should be done in Wyoming.”

Meyer said he’s also looking at homeowner tax exemption programs in other states like Florida. In Wyoming, veterans get a small discount on their property taxes, but there are no such deals for seniors on a fixed income.

The state does offer a property tax refund program for all those making less than $48,075 per year.

Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston said he supported a 2022 bill sponsored by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, that would have offered assistance for the elderly and the infirm, but it died in the House.

Livingston spoke on behalf of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association against the 5% cap but told Cowboy State Daily on Friday he supports some type of fix to the property tax spikes.

“Especially for those folks that have owned their homes for a long time and have no desire to sell,” he said. “It is definitely a tricky situation though.”

Meyer said he plans to do more in-depth research and speak with assessors from other states. He will then present his findings and proposals to the Wyoming County Assessor’s Association meeting in Lander in July and to the Legislature’s Revenue Committee in September. 

In December 2021, Meyer proposed a 20% property tax increase cap to Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.

In a phone interview Friday, Case said he is fully aware of the property tax increases, as there have been many reported by his constituents in Dubois, but said any blanket property tax cap would violate the Wyoming Constitution. He did, however, support Dockstader’s bill. 

Case said residents need to be concerned about the state’s sources of revenue moving forward, with mineral royalties on the decline over the past five years.

“We have to look at it holistically,” he said. “We might not be able to afford to lose those property taxes.”

Meyer and Case said the one flaw with a flat property tax cap is that it can lead to disparities based on property value. Property values will rise at different rates, which means the tax increases for some will be greater than the tax increases for others — a violation of the state Constitution, according to Case. 

But the consistency of growth throughout the area gives Meyer confidence there will be balance as a whole.

Cause And Effect

Meyer said 2020 election data showed around at least 2,000 new residents moving into Park County, a roughly 7% increase since 2010.

Meyer said the influx of wealthy new residents and inflation has led to the rapid tax increases.

“They spent a lot of money, they drove it up,” he said. “But now I can’t blame it on out-of-staters, that’s what you’re going to have to pay.”

Property value increases do help increase a homeowner’s equity in a home when it comes time to sell. But after many years of increasing market value, those property taxes can make a serious dent in whatever profit is made when the home is sold.

“You’ll get a lot more money for your house right now, except you’ve got to move somewhere else or you’re going to be in the same problem buying another one,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he is not sure at this time if he will advocate for extending these caps to commercial property, as they produce income and landlords can compensate for higher property taxes with higher rents.

Wyoming law requires assessors to make a full market analysis before making their tax determinations, and the Department of Revenue and State Board of Equalization performs audits on these assessments to ensure compliance. 

“The values we arrive at are most often a conservative estimate of what your property would sell for,” Meyer wrote in a letter he included the 2022 property tax information sent to every Park County property owner. “We do not set the market, we follow it.”

Meyer said he wrote this personal letter to prepare residents for the shocking increase they were likely about to see.

Doug and Debra Rosendahl live in rural Park County and only had a roughly 9% increase on their property taxes. Still, they have great concerns about what the future may hold.

“It’s not terrible but if it happens year after year it will be,” Doug Rosenthal said.

Meyer will research the issues as he is runs for reelection this fall. 

“I was afraid if I didn’t run, no one would start going (to handle the problem),” he said.

There are no candidates running against him at this time. Meyer’s office hasn’t received any formal appeals on property taxes so far, but has received hundreds of calls about the increases.

“Why did his mind suddenly change (on property tax caps)?” Lasseter said. “Perhaps because it’s an election year and people are very upset with the tax hike.”

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What if coal production drops to zero? Legislature looking for new revenues

in Government spending/Energy/News/Taxes

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Coal production in Wyoming has dropped by over 100 million tons in the past decade, and state Sen. Cale Case doesn’t think the downward slide is close to finished.

“There isn’t a scenario where it turns around, where the decline stops,” said Case, R-Lander, a co-chair of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee. “No one can articulate that.”

That will likely spell trouble for state coffers, which are dependent on coal revenue to pay the bills.

What if coal production trickled down to zero? It’s not entirely a hypothetical question these days, considering PacifiCorp’s recently announced draft plan to retire coal plants early.

Fueling state accounts

Wyoming coal producers pay severance taxes, federal mineral royalties, coal lease bonus revenues and ad valorem taxes at various points of the mining process, which flow to different state, education and local government funds. But each revenue source has decreased in the past 10 years:·      

  • Severance taxes: In 2009, mining companies paid the state $273.3 million. In 2018, they paid $198.8 million. In 2024, state projections show they could pay $185.9 million.·      
  • Federal mineral royalties, which are divided between the federal and state governments by 51% and 49% respectively: Wyoming received $262.5 million in 2009 and $198.1 million in 2018. Federal data didn’t contain royalty projections for the future.·      
  • Coal lease bonuses, which have funded Wyoming’s ambitious school construction program, were $213.6 million in 2009 and $5.3 million in 2018. From 2019 to 2024, the state estimates $0 from the bonuses, collected when mining companies pay for expanding operations on federal land. There are no expectations that mines will expand operations in the near future. ·      
  • Ad valorem taxes, assessed on the value of coal and paid a year after the assessment: Coal companies paid taxes on $3.8 billion in 2009 assessed valuations. They are expected to pay taxes on $2.8 billion in 2018 assessed valuations. By 2024, state projections show valuations falling by another $100 million to $2.7 billion.

The total income from severance taxes, federal mineral royalties and coal lease bonuses dropped from $749.4 million in 2009 to $402.2 million in 2018.

Case notes these figures don’t include sales and use taxes companies pay for items small and large — ranging from paper for copiers to tires for haul trucks.

“We don’t get the sales tax on stuff they buy,” he said. “Because they’re not buying much anymore.”

Replacement revenues

As Revenue Committee co-chair, it’s Case’s job to consider ways to make up for lost coal revenue.

“That’s a big lift,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”

True, oil and gas continue to bring Wyoming revenue – but not enough to replace coal. And it’s entirely possible, with market concerns about global climate change, that new restrictions could kill demand for those fossil fuels.

Among proposals before the Joint Revenue Committee:      

  • The committee advanced a proposal in September that would create a corporate income tax of 7 percent on companies with at least 100 shareholders – in other words, businesses not generally headquartered in the state. The revenue created would be around $20 million to $25 million a year, Case said. It’s not a replacement for coal, but a start. A similar measure failed earlier this year in the Legislature.
  • Changes to property taxes, including: An increase in the statewide mill levy for schools, increases in some property taxes, and creating a new property tax class for multi-million dollar homes.
  • Wyoming taxes wind $1 per megawatt hour. Case would like to see it increased. Case would, in general, like to impose an electricity export tax. “Wyoming’s biggest export is electricity,” he said. At this point, there is no bill draft before lawmakers.

Many conservatives have said they want to see cuts to state government before looking to raise taxes.

“Here’s what I tell people: you’ll get your cuts,” Case said. “We’re going to have to cut like crazy. And we’re still going to need revenues. This is very serious. We’ve never faced anything like this.”

Ongoing discussions

The Wyoming Taxpayers Association, which represents many of the companies that would be affected by a corporate income tax, didn’t support the idea in the Legislature earlier this year. Its leadership hasn’t yet decided on its position on the bill currently under consideration, said Ashley Harpstreith, the organization’s executive director.

The Wyoming Taxpayers Association will be discussing the state’s revenue picture at its annual meeting next month. 

“The point is we’re going to have to have those hard conversations,” Harpstreith said. “It’s coming to a head. Industry has been paying the bills for a long time.”

Revenue Committee looks again at corporate income tax

in News/Taxes

A legislative committee is once again studying a proposal to impose an income tax on so-called “big block” stores.

The Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee will take testimony on the proposal during its meeting in Pinedale this week. Members will decide whether to forward the bill to the Legislature during their meeting in November.

Under consideration is a measure similar to one killed in the Legislature this year. It would impose a 7 percent corporate income tax on companies with more than 100 shareholders.

In debates on the bill during the Legislature’s general session earlier this year, backers said national companies that do business in Wyoming have already built the cost of corporate income taxes assessed in other states into the price of goods sold in Wyoming. Supporters said the new tax would simply amount to Wyoming collecting its share of those taxes on purchases made in the state.

The measure is expected to bring another $45 million into the state and Tammy Johnson of the Wyoming Education Association said the money would go a long way toward funding education.

“(It is) the equivalent of funding 600 teaching positions for one year,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of funding a (Class) 3A school district for one year. It’s a lot of money. And it’s needed by the people of Wyoming to fund education, which is a fundamental right in Wyoming.”

Chris Brown of the Wyoming Retailers Association said his group just wants the Legislature to make sure any tax measure adopted is fair to all.

“Not one that picks winners and losers and treats businesses competing for the same customers different on a tax basis,” he said.

Johnson said since the companies that would be affected by the tax are already building the cost of taxes into their products, it just makes sense for Wyoming to collect its share of the revenue.

But Brown disagreed.

“To suggest that this is a tax that’s already being paid and Wyoming is just going to get its share back is incorrect,” he said. “Make no mistake, this is a brand new tax that, if this bill is passed, will be applied to some businesses in Wyoming and very well could translate down to the consumer.”

Senator says discussion of Wyoming’s tax structure must continue

in News/Taxes

By Cowboy State Daily

Attempts to change Wyoming’s tax structure must continue despite the defeat of a bill that would have created a corporate income tax, according to a legislative leader.

HB 220, called the “National Retail Fairness Act,” would have imposed an income tax on corporations such as large retailers that do business in Wyoming but have their headquarters in other states. 

But the measure encountered significant opposition and the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee declined to review the bill before a Wednesday deadline for committees to finish their work.

Committee Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said he never brought the bill up because there was very little chance for it to win Senate approval.

Landen said discussions of how to change Wyoming’s tax structure must continue, even though many ideas raised will not be popular.

“That’s going to be difficult every single time we bring a bill like this one because everybody believes in that, they just don’t want it done in their backyard,” he said.

Backers of the bill in the House, where the bill was approved by a vote of 44-14, said it would have given the state a tool to get its share of the taxes already built into the cost of products.

“I thought it was a good tool for Wyoming to get some of the money from the big box stores that they’re already scheduled to pay,” said Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper. “And they don’t really participate in the tax base of our state.”

In Brief: Corporate income tax bill dies without committee review

in News/Taxes

By Cowboy State Daily

A plan to impose an income tax on large companies that do business in Wyoming but are headquartered elsewhere died in a Senate committee on Tuesday.

HB 220, referred to as the National Retail Fairness Act, was not considered before a deadline for the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee to finish its work on bills.

For any bills to be considered in the Senate, they have to be reported out of committee by Wednesday. Although the bill was on the Corporations Committee’s schedule for consideration Tuesday, it was not brought up before the end of business The Corporations Committee is not scheduled to meet again before the deadline.

The bill had been seen as a way for Wyoming to tap into a revenue source from large retailers. Supporters argued that such retailers build in the cost of income tax in other states into their prices and then do not discount those prices in states that do not have an income tax — such as Wyoming. The corporate income tax was seen as a way to collect the tax that was not being paid to the state.

Bill to impose tax on out-of-state companies headed for final House reading

in News

By Cowboy State Daily

A corporate income tax could be seen in Wyoming under a bill that cleared its second vote in the House on Thursday.

Representatives voted in favor of HB 220 — also called the National Retail Fairness Act — to send it to a third and final House reading on Friday.

The bill would impose a 7 percent tax on companies that do business in Wyoming but are headquartered in other states, raising an estimated $45 million a year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Obermueller R-Casper, said Wyoming residents pay the same for items from large retailers, such as WalMart, as residents of Nebraska, which has an income tax. Because the income tax is built into the price of items, Wyoming residents are helping to pay Nebraska’s income tax, he said.

“We’re saying we’re paying the taxes in, we want the taxes back to build our roads and schools, not yours,” he said.

But Chris Brown, director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, said the tax could hurt the state’s hospitality industry.

He also questioned the speed with which the bill is moving through the legislative process, saying retail and hosptality industry representatives have not had chance to thoroughly review it.

The bill was introduced on Tuesday, was cleared in committee on Wednesday and went through its second reading Thursday.

“That’s unfortunate because it’s been limiting the ability for retail to get its grips around it and weigh in on it accurately,” he said.

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