At least two local towns are questioning the validity of the property taxes Fremont County imposed on them this year.
Fremont County Assessor Tara Berg charged a $2,700 tax for Shoshoni’s medical clinic and a $10,000 tax for the Lander Community Center, according to public meetings held this week.
She said both facilities are used to perform services that are outside of the government’s purview, in direct competition with private enterprise, so they are not eligible for a governmental tax exemption.
Government property is exempt from taxation as long as it is “used primarily for a governmental purpose,” according to the Wyoming Constitution.
“Governmental purpose” is not explicitly defined – and some argue it shouldn’t be – but state property tax rules do say that “if a service is rendered gratuitously, supported by taxes, and for the public welfare or enjoyment generally, the property associated with providing such service is exempt” from taxation.
Based on that language, Shoshoni should not have to pay taxes on its medical clinic, town clerk Chris Konija told the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee during a meeting this week in Lander.
The clinic only exists because the town built it, purchased equipment for it, and found a service provider willing to occupy the space, Konija pointed out.
“It is not profitable, and it is not self-sustaining,” he said. “(We) subsidize, essentially, that service.”
A similar situation exists in Lander: City treasurer Charri Lara said the local community center hasn’t turned a profit during her entire 16-year tenure.
In fact, she said, in the first year after the new community center was built, the operation lost $97,000.
The city also loses money on its golf course, which was taxed this year as well, Lara said.
Both municipalities plan to embark on the convoluted and expensive property tax appeal process, which is especially burdensome for small towns like Shoshoni.
Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith said the assessor’s office should have to take on that burden instead.
“If the taxing authority feels that we do not meet that (exemption) requirement … they should be the one appealing, not us,” Highsmith said.
For its part, the Joint Revenue Committee said it would consider resurrecting a 2020 bill that would more clearly define the phrase “governmental purpose.”
The legislation failed introduction in the Wyoming Senate that year.
In its current form, the bill says a property with a “governmental purpose” is used for “health, safety and welfare.”
The definition includes “community event centers” and “state, city or county health departments” – but not “medical clinics operated by a private entity,” like the one in Shoshoni.
The JRC’s next meeting is scheduled to take place in September in Casper.