Though the economy is swinging downwards, property taxes won’t follow it.
“There’s a misconception that if we experience a downturn, your property taxes are going to go down,” Teton County Assessor Melissa Shinkle said.
The total assessed value of property in the county increased 4.87% to just over $2 billion in 2018. That brings property tax estimates, which were mailed last week, up with it, even as the economy fishtails amid the nation’s response to COVID-19.
As in past years, the increase will also not be even.
Parts of the Gill Addition and pockets of East Jackson may see 30% to 40% increases in their assessments.
Commercial properties on Gregory Lane, which saw the largest increase this year, will be hit even harder. Their assessments “pretty much doubled,” Shinkle said.
“It’s just at the worst time,” she added.
Wyoming’s property tax, or mill levy, primarily funds the school system, but local offices have the ability to raise mills of their own.
Teton County’s general fund, for example, benefits from a local mill, as does the Teton County Library, the Teton County Fair and other countywide entities. The state sets the plurality of the mill, but Teton County School District No. 1 and other local entities determine the remainder, setting the total in August when property tax bills are sent.
In light of the downturn and the property tax increases, commissioners have already started thinking about the mill for the general fund, which they control.
That rate was 5.936 in 2019, making up about 10% of that year’s 57.554 mills, which taxpayers paid at a rate of about $5.70 for every $1,000 of their property’s assessed value.
Despite looming budget cuts, commissioners began to discuss trimming their portion Monday, spurred, in part, by an ambitious proposal from Commissioner Mark Barron to cut the general fund mill by three.
Commissioner Mark Newcomb argued against that idea.
He was concerned that the impact of cutting the county’s mills to that degree would have a larger, negative impact on government services than it would have a positive impact on taxpayers.
One mill, according to Treasurer Katie Smits, is worth just over $2 million.
If the commissioners’ mill rate stays the same in 2020, the general fund, which benefits from that mill and doles out money to the health department, Teton County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies, could bring in about $12 million. Cutting a mill from the general fund’s take would reduce that revenue stream by about $2 million, or 16%.
On the flip side, a property owner with a $1 million home would pay $5,467.63 in property taxes under the current rate. Reducing the commissioners’ levy by a mill would bring that dollar value down to $5,372.63, a $95 decrease for the year. Reducing it by three mills, as Barron suggested, would bring the payment down to $5,182.63, a $285 savings.
Newcomb questioned whether those savings for the taxpayer are worth it.
“I worry that when we’re already going to ask for a 20% reduction in budgets countywide, to add another $2 million reduction on top of it would put us in a position where we’re really cutting things to the core,” he said.
Barron, however, disagreed.
“Renters are struggling to make rent. They’re asking for consideration on that rent from people who are paying property taxes,” he said, noting that small business owners are in a similar situation, trying to pay rent while compensating staff and maintaining employee benefits.
“Any reduction in property mills can certainly be backfilled from the county reserves,” Barron said. There is about $7 million in that pool. “That’s why the county has put reserves away.”
Commissioners did not reach a resolution Monday, when they chewed over the issue. The mill rate will be decided in August, after the schools and other entities weigh in on what their mills, which are separate from commissioners, should be.