Fremont County Assessor warns of tax raises in 2022; some Lander non-profits to be further assessed

(Lander, WY) – Fremont County Assessor Tara Berg provided information on valuation processes at the Tuesday night Lander City Council meeting, and how those values affect the taxpayers.

Berg stated she ran preliminary reports on Tuesday, where she found property values are going for “more than what is reasonable.”

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“When our evaluation year begins, we assess properties a year behind, so right now, what we’re using to set a value for 2022, are all the properties that are selling right now in 2021.”

According to Berg, 2019 had 91 sales, with an average sale price of $229,000; 2020 had 112 sales, with an average sale price of $256,000; and with no December data entered yet, 2021 has had 154 sales, with an average sale price of $309,000.

These numbers reflect “open market arm’s length transactions.”

There have also been a number of rural home sales above $500,000 to $800,000 that have been a cause of potential concern.

“That means some increases to taxes,” Berg warned. “We’ll see some increased valuations that will be hard on some people. That’s also why I’m here tonight, trying to get that word out.”

Berg also stated that while numbers aren’t final for percentage raises, she advised folks to plan on saving for at least about 30%, and that a town hall meeting may be conducted in February or March in an effort to explain to people what is exactly going to happen once further data is looked into.

The Assessors Office is required to physically inspect properties once every six years as well as look at sales every year to determine the market value.

After an appeals period, that data is sent to the State to determine if all the statistical parameters are met, and they will not certify value until they’ve seen all date.

“Once that data is certified, those are the values that you all use to determine what tax dollars you’re going to get to operate on for that year,” Berg explained.

This is usually done and certified by about mid July, at which point the Mill Levy is calculated.

Assessment notices will be sent in April.

Berg later commented that non-profits will be looked into, specifically the Community Center and golf course, due to the fact that a non-profit corporation or non-profit entity might have the same type of business as a for-profit, and issues arise when one of them is taxed and one of them isn’t.

“I think what what we’ve come to though is a point where we have to start looking at the number of them and what and what effect exempting those has on property values, and if there is any commercial aspect to that non-profit, whether or not there’s an actual profit made at the end.”

Exemption applications were submitted two years ago for Community Center and Golf Course, but issues from COVID-19 halted discussions on income streams from those entities last year.

When discussions were initially had during the onset of COVID-19, there wasn’t enough of an income stream to assess, and values were declining.

“Those two properties are a huge a huge asset to our city,” Berg commented, “but certainly we need to look at it and how it fits within those rules and the taxability of it and others.”

City Treasurer Charri Lara then commented that out of the 10 years of documented income for the Community Center, it has lost an average of $51,000 a year for the last five years.

Lara then broke down the bookings of the Community Center and who was using it, stating that non-profits that used the Center were charged, adding “what we’re charging obviously isn’t enough for what we’re having to pay out for it.”

Focus was then brought back to the golf course by Council Member Chris Hulme.

“The golf course doesn’t necessarily drive a lot of revenue, it’s more land based, so would the idea there be more of a property tax on the the size of the land and the value of the land?” he asked.

“Probably a combination of the land value, as well as a per whole fee for the course,” Berg replied, but plans to look into those numbers further as well.

Council Member Julia Stuble then then added that for half the year, the golf course is basically a public park, and maybe that could be taken into consideration on how it is assessed tax-wise.

Hulme also asked if it was possible to determine what the percentage is of City-owned non-profits versus non-profits that are just located within City boundaries, due to concerns he’s heard from community members stating they are being hurt tax base-wise, caused by non-profits.

Berg agreed with Stuble, saying that will definitely be taken into consideration, and also told Hulme that she should be able to provide the information he requested at a later time.

Mayor Richardson expressed concerns about raising taxes and how that might mean people will be driven away from using those facilities if prices then go up.

Berg agreed, adding “I think at some point we have to decide what that happy medium is going to be, and what people will still be willing to do to use those facilities.”

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