Lawmakers clarifying tax exemptions for government-owned properties like Lander community center, golf course

State lawmakers are working on legislation that would clarify which government-owned properties are exempt from taxation in Wyoming.

The issue arose in Fremont County earlier this year, when Shoshoni received a property tax bill for its medical clinic and Lander got one for its golf course and its community center.

Those facilities would all be exempt from property taxes under the bill draft that the Joint Revenue Committee considered last month.

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‘Tax spiral’

During the committee meeting, Wyoming Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, pointed out that the Lander Community and Convention Center was “totally built for the good of the public” – not to provide a “profit center” for the city.

Other communities have “heavily subsidized” event centers too, Wyoming County Commissioners Association executive director Jerimiah Rieman said, and if all of those properties are taxed, it could be “even more detrimental” for local governments to maintain the facilities for the public.

Teton County Assessor Melissa Shinkle called it a “tax spiral issue” that also applies to government-owned properties in her jurisdiction, where “taxpayer money is buying the land, and taxpayer money is then paying the taxes.”

Wyoming Department of Revenue director Brenda Henson likened it to “taking money from one pocket and putting it in another pocket.”

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“If I’m a county … I would be paying that (tax), and then on the other hand, I would be the recipient of those (taxes),” she explained.

‘Government purpose’

Henson added that, initially, all government-owned property in Wyoming was exempt from taxation.

The rules changed in 1957, she said, when “the voters of this state” decided that tax exemptions should only apply to government-owned properties that are “used primarily for a government purpose.”

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“But that term, ‘government purpose,’ was never defined,” Henson said. “So here we are in 2022 trying to determine what (it means).

“It is a policy decision of this governing body.”

The committee’s bill draft says “governmental purpose” includes “health, safety and welfare, education, transportation, infrastructure or administrative purposes.”

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Hospitals and community event centers fall under the “health, safety and welfare” category, according to the bill, and golf courses are listed as “infrastructure.”

The Revenue Committee didn’t vote on the bill draft last month, opting to delay the discussion until their November meeting so they could learn more about the topic.

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