Jackson town councilors agreed Monday to include projected revenue from a half mill of property tax — a tax the town hasn’t levied in about 40 years — in the next budget, though a final decision on whether to actually approve the property tax won’t come until later.
Though the council will vote to approve the final version of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget on June 21, state law gives councilors until July 31 to decide whether to approve a property tax and at what rate.
Town Manager Larry Pardee, at the behest of the council, presented the various effects of a property tax on town property owners, looking both at varying property valuations and what it would cost those property owners at different levels of property taxes. A graph Pardee showed at the meeting looked at how much a property tax would cost a homeowner whose property was valued at $350,000 and increasing incrementally up to a $1 million valuation. The graph then showed how much property owners would pay at various levels of tax, starting at a half mill and increasing up to eight mills, the maximum allowed by state law.
For example, someone owning a Jackson property with a $350,000 valuation would pay $16.63 annually to the town if a half-mill tax were levied. An owner whose property is valued at $1 million would pay $47.50 per year to the town at that same half-mill rate. At the maximum eight mills the $350,000 property owner would pay $266 a year, while the owner with a $1 million valuation would owe $760 annually, according to Pardee’s calculations.
Councilor Jessica Sell Chambers said, “If we could be realistic or reasonable about this particular option for generating revenue, when we look at the actual cost to property owners, it’s minimal, save for the eight mill [levy]. That would take up our property tax significantly for a lot of our homes, given that they’re all [valued at] about a million dollars now. But I think if we want to get serious about generating revenue, this is something that is immediately at our fingertips, unlike some of the other options that we have to go to the state for.”
Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen suggested, as he has previously, that the council look at the half-mill option, noting that it would represent “less than a 1% increase based on current taxes for our residents.”
Jorgensen offered two primary rationales for his suggested half-mill levy. One, the projected approximately $250,000 in revenue the half-mill would generate for the town “is using the same tool the county uses and directed toward Fire/EMS” funding, which is shared by the town and county.
The second reason, he explained, is that levying a half-mill property tax now — though the town is coming out of the current fiscal year in good financial shape versus initial projections that were tempered due to the pandemic — “is adding into our toolbox the full range of tools that we control, for this council and others moving forward. ... And I think it’s important for us to have that tool available to us.”
Jorgensen acknowledged that though some in the community felt significant negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the town came out relatively unscathed financially. He added that even though “we don’t need the revenue right now, this is just allowing us to have the tools moving forward. But it’s also recognizing that we are making tremendous investments in our community in this budget, and I’m very, very excited about it.”
It was the vice mayor, too, who suggested the revenue projection from a half mill of property tax be included in the FY22 budget, though encouraging that vote to levy the tax to come later — perhaps in July — to allow time for councilors to “express our concerns or excitement” about the measure.
Councilor Jim Rooks, while acknowledging the council’s need to examine various revenue streams, said he thinks “it’s the wrong tax at the wrong time.”
Instead, Rooks said, he would prefer to look at lodging tax and sales tax for added revenue. He said he’d “be very interested in looking at a real estate transfer tax, understanding that that one is a little outside of our ballpark as far as ultimate determination of whether we can utilize such a fund,” referring to the need for legislators in Cheyenne to first create a real estate transfer tax.
Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson asked Pardee when Jackson residents would see property tax bills if the council approves the levy. Pardee said the bills would come due in November and May.
“I think if we want to get serious about generating revenue, this is ... immediately at our fingertips.” — Jessica Sell Chambers jackson councilor