As property values climb in Teton County, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee has unanimously thrown its weight behind a bill that would allow counties to refund some people’s property taxes.

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, is the driving force behind the bill. Because a statewide property tax refund program hasn’t been funded for the past two fiscal years, the Teton County legislator is looking for an alternative way to provide longtime Wyoming taxpayers relief.

He’s particularly interested in making that available in Jackson Hole, where home prices have skyrocketed in the past year. The average price of a single family home hit $4.43 million in the third quarter of 2021, a 19% increase from a year prior. Because sale prices factor into property tax assessments, increases generally mean higher taxes even if homeowners don’t sell.

“I think it’s time that the county has the ability to offer this program on its own,” Yin told the News&Guide on Tuesday. “The benefit of that program is to keep people in their homes and to be able to ensure that people aren’t pushed out because of the rising home prices across the board.”

Mike Yin

Mike Yin

Demographics Yin and other officials are concerned about: Older people on fixed incomes, or lower income people who might be house rich but cash poor and struggling to make tax payments.

To make that all happen, Yin proposed a “county optional property tax refund program.”

Modeled closely on the state’s program, which was last funded in late 2019 and early 2020 and delivered assistance to about 100 Teton County residents, the program outlined in Yin’s bill would allow qualifying homeowners to apply for a county-funded refund after paying their taxes for the year.

It would limit eligibility to those who have been Wyoming residents for at least five years, make less than three quarters of the county’s median gross household income as defined by the state and have a fixed amount of assets outside of a house, car, IRA and pension funds. When the state program was last offered, that asset limit was just north of $120,000, and the eligibility criteria in Yin’s bill are intended to match the state’s.

But there are also some differences. This program would be funded by counties, which would have to decide to cough up some of their own tax dollars to offer refunds.

And Yin’s bill would also require people to have to lived in their home for nine months of the year prior.

“The goal is for it to be used by full-time residents and to avoid having the possibility of second-home owners using it, because if you have a second home you’re not getting kicked out,” Yin said.

Natalia D. Macker, chairwoman of the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, which could decide to design and implement a refund program if the bill passes, said she was supportive.

“I support the bill in concept at this point,” Macker said in a text Tuesday. “We should all look carefully at the eligibility parameters to ensure we are reaching the households in need.”

With state requirements as the backbone the bill would allow counties to set up their own programs and could make eligibility requirements stricter than what the state has proposed.

“My goal is, again, maximum flexibility for the county,” Yin said.

Teton County Assessor Melissa Shinkle felt positive about what Yin had proposed. Aside from the state-funded property tax refund program, two opportunities exist for property tax relief in Teton County.

One is a program for veterans that Shinkle said is relatively “puny,” usually offering a few hundred dollars of savings. In Teton County, Shinkle said, homeowners pay an average of $5,500 in property taxes yearly.

That program has come under the budget-conscious legislature’s scrutiny.

”We were even in danger last year of losing some of that,” Shinkle said. “It’s puny enough, I say ... ‘Please don’t take any more away from that. Our veterans deserve way more than that.’”

The other is a program that allows people to defer a portion of their property taxes, though the county foots the bill for the amount that’s deferred, placing a lien on a taxpayer’s house until it has been repaid.

But that program’s popularity has dwindled as property taxes have increased.

So, with few other options for lowering people’s bills, Shinkle was broadly supportive of Yin’s proposal.

“So long as our budget would allow it, it’s a great tool to have,” she said.

But she did wonder who would monitor the nine-month residency requirement.

Yin said that’s something counties could decide.

”Enforcement itself could be delegated by the county or it could be done by the county themselves, or they could put it in their housing department, etc.” Yin said. “So there’s a lot of different ways if the goal is to keep it a little flexible in the statute.”

If the Joint Revenue Committee’s unanimous vote is any guide, the idea appears to have bipartisan support. Likewise in Teton County, the bill is garnering broad support from Town Councilor Arne Jorgensen, who testified in favor of the bill, to Teton County GOP Vice Chair Alex Muromcew.

“It is a tool that helps us mitigate the impacts of rising taxes,” said Jorgensen, who has been seeking new revenue sources for the town in recent months. “Whether we raise them in a mill levy question or because of rising market sources, costs are going up, and this is a way to mitigate that.”

Muromcew said property tax relief is something “we desperately need,” pointing to the next scheduled release of assessments in the spring of 2022.

“I think there are going to be torches and pitchforks in the Town Square when people get their new tax bills,” he said. “So it’s probably a good idea.”

With an unanimous vote from the Revenue Committee, the bill now heads to the full Legislature for its budget session. It will need a two-thirds vote of support to be considered.

“As long as it’s not state funds being spent on it, I think people are much more amenable to property tax refunds,” Yin said. “It can be helpful in other communities.”

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Billy Arnold has covered government and policy since January 2020, sitting through hours of Teton County meetings so readers don't have to. He moonlights as a ski reporter, helps with pandemic coverage and sneaks away to climb when he can.

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(1) comment

Judd Grossman

Town and County need to stop raising taxes. Property tax increases should be capped at 1% until the property changes hands.

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