Year over year increase in total assessed property value in Teton County

Disclaimer: 2018 assessed values are subject to corrections.

When commercial property owners receive their 2018 valuations in the mail this week, some are going to be shocked by dramatic assessment increases, according to Teton County Assessor Melissa Shinkle.

Some owners will see taxes double.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Shinkle said. “It’s big.”

Teton County has been improperly assessing commercial properties for years, dating back to at least 2011, according to the Wyoming State Board of Equalization. In 2016 and 2017 the state board ordered the county assessor to fix its valuation errors and comply with Department of Revenue standards.

The state board said the county assessor has consistently failed to value commercial properties uniformly and at full market value, as the law requires, resulting in “substantial undervaluation and non-uniformity” and “necessitating remedial measures administered through direct oversight of the Wyoming Department of Revenue and State Board.”

The county must comply under the threat of equalization or face a takeover by the state that would mean property owners would lose the right to appeal assessments, Shinkle said.

“For me, as an assessor, I certainly don’t want taxpayers to lose their right to appeal,” Shinkle said. “That’s their right to due process.”

The shift means many commercial property owners will see sharp increases in assessments and corresponding property taxes this year.

Depending on historic valuation and other factors, each property owner’s hike will be different: Some will dodge the bullet, while others will see dramatic increases — even exceeding 100 percent in some cases, Shinkle said.

“People will be lucky to have 20 percent,” she added.

Countywide, Shinkle said, the increase in commercial improved property values in 2018 was 38 percent. The total assessed property value increase for all property types was 17.5 percent, up from 7.3 percent the previous year, owing mostly to the jump in commercial values.

Commercial landlords may take the hit from the increased tax costs themselves or pass the additional property tax costs onto lessees.

“It’s disappointing for all of us that it’s come to this,” Shinkle said. “I can certainly sympathize with all the business owners. But, unfortunately, it’s just a whole lot of years of neglect that we have to take care of now.”

After receiving the first state order in 2016, then-Assessor Andy Cavallaro held a public forum and outlined a gradual plan to comply that would have been completed in 2020. But when the 2017 assessments showed a dip in assessments, the state ordered the county to speed up the process, Shinkle said.

To comply with the state’s standards for commercial property, Shinkle said the assessor’s office studied sales data on vacant commercial land to understand what the land itself was worth. The step posed a challenge because there are so few commercial land sales in Teton County, so, unlike previous years, the assessor used sales data for the whole county rather than isolating sales in particular neighborhoods.

To adjust for variation from property to property, the assessor adjusted based on factors like location (for example, Hoback versus Town Square) and the state of a building.

While the initial change this year may seem a significant deviation for some property owners, Shinkle said she’s confident it’s the most uniform valuation the county has ever seen, and that in the long run the shift means more fair and uniform assessments. She said previous valuations were inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary.

“I know this change is going to be extremely difficult to manage for a lot of people,” Shinkle said, “but my true hope is that going forward, this puts us in a position of assessing these properties fairly and not all over the place.”

The assessor must mail the 2018 assessments by Monday.

“I’m grateful it’s finally going to put the county at that level playing field, and hopefully this will never occur again,” Shinkle said.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, or @JHNGcounty.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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