State lawmakers are considering measures that would provide property tax relief options to Wyoming taxpayers.
House Bill 127 originally sought to allocate $2.5 million in funding toward tax refunds for elderly and disabled citizens. The bill passed the House in a 47-13 vote Feb. 5. Mike Yin, D-Teton, voted for it, as did Reps. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, and Jim Roscoe, I-Teton/Sublette/Lincoln.
“It’s a program that already exists,” Yin said. “The only problem was, the funding for it stopped. The idea there is that we don’t want to kick anyone out of their house that’s been living there forever, just because their property tax went up. They don’t have the ability to change their income level to match those property taxes.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved an amended version of the bill. Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Teton, was the lone “no” vote on the committee, saying he wanted to see more money go toward the refunds. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
In its approved budget the Appropriations Committee favored a reduced figure for property tax relief. The current budget, Gierau said, allocates $1 million for the elderly and disabled property tax refunds. It also includes $625,000 for property tax refunds for generally lower-income property owners, though $125,000 of that will go toward administering the program.
Gierau said the Teton County delegation felt it was important to push for a budget allocation for property tax relief this year in order “to try to help seniors, to try to help people that we heard from very loud and clear when property taxes went up and people were looking for some relief.” The 2019 legislative session isn’t a budget year, but Gierau said the situation in Teton County was an “emergency” that warranted off-budget-year action.
During the 2018 tax season many property owners in Teton County saw a dramatic hike in assessed values and therefore property taxes.
Overall, assessments in the county increased about 17 percent. The dramatic shift resulted from changes mandated by the Wyoming State Board of Equalization, which in 2016 and 2017 ordered the Teton County assessor to immediately fix historic valuation errors and comply with state rules.
The property tax relief programs haven’t been funded since 2016, during “the leanest years of the budget,” Gierau said. He said the current $1.625 million total is “not a total solution, but it’s better than nothing.”
Teton County Assessor Melissa Shinkle said she’s skeptical that the limited funding for the relief programs will help many Teton County residents, but allocating any money is a good start.
“If we can start showing the Legislature that people are applying for these programs, they are needed, they are being used, then I think future allocations may be easier to come by,” Shinkle said.