Attempt to define ‘governmental use’ for property tax exemptions stalled in committee

A state legislative committee has tabled a bill intended to clarify which government-owned properties are exempt from taxation in Wyoming.

The bill draft features several lists of activities that would – and would not – be considered a “governmental purpose” and therefore qualify – or not – for property tax exemptions.

But some lawmakers on the Joint Revenue Committee argued that the lists were too detailed and would only cause more confusion.

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The committee also heard from several people during last month’s meeting who asked for items to be removed or added to various lists.  

Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, agreed that the lists may not be quite “right” yet, but he said the bill would address some “real issues” that county assessors have brought to the legislature about the need for clarity in statute.

“We’ll get to the right list over time,” Case said. “We’ll make this bill better.”

‘One size does not fit all’

Some who spoke at the Revenue Committee meeting suggested that county assessors should be the ones responsible for making decisions about tax exemptions for government-owned properties in their local jurisdictions.

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“There’s a good reason why some judgment is given to the county assessors,” Wyoming Association of Municipalities executive director David Fraser said. “It would be easier for them if they just had a checklist and they didn’t have to exercise any judgement, (but) one size does not fit all. Our 23 counties are very different.”

It’s “not a secret” that some municipalities have “disagreed – even very recently – with their assessors,” he noted.

“Some of those grievances unfortunately were aired at one of your recent meetings held up in Lander,” Fraser said.

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He doesn’t expect WAM members to “always agree” with their county assessors, Fraser said, but he pointed out that there already is an appeals process in place to address the situation “when those disagreements” occur.

“Occasionally, even after those appeals (are processed) our members still don’t agree with what the assessor decided,” he said. “(But) taking their decision-making responsibilities away from them and putting them in statute really takes away the ability to address really the disparate needs of our 23 counties.”

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