Tax forum sheds light on property tax relief and one-cent, half-cent sales tax

    (Riverton, WY) The Fremont County Republican Central Committee held a public forum last Wednesday that touched on the new property tax relief bills that were recently passed, as well as the one-cent and half-cent sales taxes, which will be back on the ballot in November.

    On the first panel regarding property tax relief bills were House Representatives Ember Oakley, Lloyd Larsen, and Pepper Ottman, County Treasurer Jim Anderson, County Assessor Tara Berg, and Chairman of the Fremont County Commissioners Larry Allen.

    Oakley, who is also a member of the Revenue Committee…with the assistance of Tara Berg, gave a summary of each bill, explaining how the legislation passed and to what extent each bill would help local property tax owners.


    ‘Property tax exemption for long-term homeowners’

    HB0003 was titled as the “Property tax exemption for long-term homeowners.” According to its definition, it exempts 50% of the assessed value. Property owners must be 65 years old or older, paid taxes in Wyoming for 25 years, the property must be the primary residence only, and reside in it for eight months out of the year. One application per household; applications are required before the 4th Monday of May, and will start being accepted in September.

    Oakley said that the concept for the bill came to her “from a Fremont County person, actually.”

    “One of the single biggest things that we heard when we were talking to constituents and people all over Wyoming was, at what point do you own your home? Let’s say you’re getting older and don’t have much money…the ‘government can’t take your home’ sort of a concept…which is a fair discussion when you’re talking about property tax.”

    Fremont County Assessor Tara Berg added that the tax relief will not start until 2025, as they are waiting for the Department of Revenue to write the application, which will be available by the fourth Monday in May of next year.


    Berg said that she has already started on a list of property owners who say they would qualify, and encourages people to come in and get on the list so she can contact them when the application becomes available.

    “This one is not backfilled by the state of Wyoming…this one will have a direct impact on our (county) budgeting process,” Berg added. “I’m hoping to get started early enough so that I would be able to give numbers before the fourth Monday in May of next year.”

    ‘Property tax exemption-residential structures and land’

    Titled “Property tax exemption-residential structures and land,” HB0045 states that the excess of FMV (Fair Market Value) on a single-family residential structure above 4% from the prior year’s value is exempted. For 2025, it will include land.


    Oakley said that the bill was an attempt at future property tax relief, “so it is called an exemption rather than a cap,” she said. “The reality is that it’s a cap at your rate of growth each year for 4% from the year prior. But the reason we’re careful with that is because, as we go forward…it’s probably unconstitutional. It says in our constitution that the houses shall be valued at full market value and assessed evenly and accordingly. We had a joint resolution to have that on the ballot that failed introduction.”

    Oakley continued to say that there will be a joint resolution on the ballot in November to take “residential property” out and make it its own class.

    Berg gave examples of what the assessment notices will look like, and what each of the exemptions is going to be worth, as they are required to file a report to the Department of Revenue at the end of the year. She said that, for 2024, the county has 25,000 parcels varied between commercial, residential, and agriculture to sort through.


    “On this (bill), you’re going to look at your neighbors…which is what you all do; you come into my office and say ‘my neighbor’s taxes went up this much, mine went up more.’ This is going to be different this year because depending on the value of your home and the application process, some are going to save more. If you have an $800K home that should be valued at $1 million, you’re going to save more money. That’s where we get into the constitutionality question. So people in a high-valued area are going to save more money than people in a lower-value area. But this will help with the increases that we’ve seen.”

    Larsen said that if they took the fiscal year 2023-2024, the impact on property tax to the counties would have been approximately $49.5 million in decreased revenue and to the school foundation program would have been $31 million. “So counties and schools will certainly take a hit,” he said.

    There was some discussion on the Homestead Exemption (HB0054) but the bill has since been vetoed by the Governor.

    Veterans exemptions (SF0089) and the property tax refund (HB0004) were also discussed. The refund program already exists statewide…property owners would qualify depending on a percentage determined by a median income scale, and then receive a check back from the state. Treasurer Jim Anderson said that the (new) applications for the refund are not yet available…old applications are on the Fremont County website

    “It does require a receipt showing that your property taxes were paid, some proof of income,” Anderson said. “It goes to the Department of Revenue, they make the determination, then send you the check directly…we are able to accept the applications in our office; we don’t do anything to them other than mail them off to the Department of Revenue.”

    Representative Larsen mentioned that the Governor put in another $20 million for the property tax refund, in addition to the $8 million that was in their standard budget request. He also said that the median tiers are not the way they were previously structured.

    “If you’re at 125% of the median income, you get 100%,” he said. “If you’re 145%, you’d get 65%, and it works on down…if you’re at 165% then you get 25% off.”

    “Going up to 165% of the median income means that more people would qualify,” Oakley said, adding that the program is largely underutilized, and encouraged the county to make property owners aware of the opportunity.

    Berg said that last year’s median income was 86.4%. Applications for the property tax refund are due back to the Department of Revenue or the Treasurer by June 5th.

    Representative Sarah Penn voted in favor of all of the bills. “Some do more than others,” she said. “But you have to go down, get your application, get your IRS stuff, turn it all in…it’s been said that it’s been underused and there’s a reason for that because it takes a lot of effort to go and do those things. Most of these bills, in my opinion, are not great if we’re looking for real relief. It’s a start…I think we can do better and hopefully, in the future, we can.”

    Panel for the 1 cent and 1/2 cent sales tax. From left to right: County Commissioners Michael Brown and Larry Allen, Hudson Mayor Sherry Oler, Riverton Mayor Tim Hancock, Lander Mayor Monte Richardson, and Senator Cale Case. (h/t Carol Harper)

    Representative Pepper Ottman said that she had gone down to the assessor’s office last fall to get an application. “You have to ask for it,” she said. “There was no information around…I’m just saying, if we’re going to do this and say that we’re offering people some relief, we’ve got to make sure that they know it’s there.”

    One-Cent Sales Tax: A penny for their thoughts…

    On the panel for discussion about the one-cent and half-cent sales taxes were Riverton Mayor Tim Hancock, Lander Mayor Monte Richardson, Hudson Mayor Sherry Oler, Fremont County Commissioners Mike Jones and Larry Allen, and Senator Cale Case.

    Panelists agreed that the one-cent tax, which is dedicated to city and county infrastructure projects, was critical to the municipalities and areas of Fremont County.

    Mayor Hancock mentioned Riverton’s FORCC committee in the maintenance of Riverton’s streets and roads. Mayor Richardson said that the tax has been used for the sewer ponds, water and sewer lines, street repaving and maintenance, and the water tank project. Commissioners Allen and Jones spoke to the usage of the funds for bridge repairs, signage, fencing, cattle guards, and the re-graveling of about 300-400 miles of county roads.

    Mayor Oler said that without the tax, Hudson wouldn’t have been able to complete their infrastructure projects.

    “Hudson is small and we are basically disadvantaged based on population and per capita income,” she said. “We have the smaller pot for our annual revenue and we have to still maintain the burden of supporting our water treatment plant, making sure people have good water, provide sewer, and maintain the roads.”

    Oler said that Hudson also applies for WWDC funding and goes after every grant they can to help with their sewer lagoons, water treatment plant, and distribution systems.

    “Sometimes it’ll be a year before you get those funds,” she said. “In an emergency situation, you can’t wait a year; you have to have something that can back you up and that you can tap into.”

    Making sense of the Half-Cent

    The half-cent sales tax will also be back on the ballot in the fall election. According to the Forward Fremont County website, the initiative “has been funding county-wide transportation services and grants for economic development projects with sales tax collections since April 1, 2021.”

    The wording and structure of the ballot will remain the same, with 30% going to transportation, which is divided between the Central Regional Airport and WRTA in a 20/10 split. The remainder of the funds are for creating economic development, defined as “adds jobs, retains jobs, or brings outside dollars from outside the community into our community.”

    Fremont County’s funds are distributed through their MOVE program; Riverton’s funds are dispersed through EDGE; and Lander’s funds are allocated through LIFT.

    Mayor Richardson referred to a summary sheet from a 47-page study done by the University of Wyoming through Forward Fremont County that revealed tax initiative results. From April 2021 to September 2023, the total output value of the half-cent came to $25 million. It created 250 jobs, labor income generated was $9 million, and state and local tax revenue was $1 million. Projections for 2025 through 2028 estimate $120 million, 1059 jobs, labor income at $35 million, and $4 million in state and local tax revenue.

    “If we focus on the 70 percent, that’s actually handled by the local governments and is really used to do something unconstitutional if it were done by the state,” said Senator Cale Case. “That piece of the Wyoming Constitution actually prohibits giving donations and prohibits private funding like this…with this economic development tax, local governments can do something the state can’t do, which is give money to other people.”

    “And that’s where the rub comes,” Case continued. “You gather up money from a lot of people in a dispersed manner, and you don’t count the loss of funds, but yet you give it to other folks, and you call that a benefit.”

    Case also said that he felt that the half-cent grants were “chronie-based” and a “fallacious way” to approach the big picture of economic benefit to a community.

    “Unlike an infrastructure tax that benefits everybody…this takes one business and disadvantages it with respect to another, and then calls it a good thing” he continued. “I adamantly think we need to rethink how this is done. This is just wrong. These taxes are particularly regressive…a lot of property owners don’t like to hear that word…but if you’re poor, and you don’t own property, you’re a renter, and these taxes hit you harder than people who have more income and don’t spend as much on consumables.”

    Mayor Hancock said that economic development “can be a lot of things, that’s part of the problem. It’s such a vague concept. I think it really goes down to who you have making the decisions.”

    Hancock disagreed with the Senator’s “chronie-based” analogy and said that the half-cent has helped with the airport and the (new) hospital, “…which is huge,” he said. “We’re trying to do the best with what we have. By no means are we perfect…I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say ‘Everybody, make sure you vote for this.’ I don’t think that’s the place of government to sit there and say how you should vote. But I can tell you that the benefits we’ve had, I think, have been tremendous for the community.”


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