Facts about that ‘50% off property taxes’ petition and why it’s a bad idea

Before you sign that petition circulating around the city, to lower property taxes by 50%, consider what those taxes provide and the probable consequences if they were cut in half. It may be tempting to want to pay less taxes but cutting that expenditure in half could bring disastrous consequences for you, your children and for your community.

The “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Tax in Wyoming,” which is circulating across the state, reads, “For property used as a primary residence, fifty percent (50%) of the assessed value of the primary property is exempt from property taxation as a homeowner’s exemption.” The initiative defines a primary residence as a house, trailer house, mobile home, transportable home or other dwelling place.

Across the state, people are circulating a petition in an attempt to gather 30,000 registered voters’ signatures, which must be certified, so the initiative can be put on the 2024 ballot. If the initiative passes in the 2024 election, then the law would go into effect 90 days after results of the election are certified. This would only give the legislature and state agencies three months to prepare for the changes.

In a Jackson Hole News&Guide story published on Jan. 10, Wyoming County Assessors Association President Melissa Shinkle said, “Assessors are one of the only offices that are directly regulated by other agencies in the state — the Department of Revenue (DOR) and the State Board of Equalization (SBOE). Wyoming statutes give the DOR the authority to develop rules and policies for assessors to follow, and the SBOE must review whether the properties are being assessed at fair market value, which is required by the Wyoming Constitution. But there are no rules or amendments to the laws that would give assessors direction on how to implement a 50% exemption to residential homeowners in the state.”

Shinkle said she is concerned about the limited time and the amount of money the measure would cost. Assessors’ offices would need administrative and software updates and would have to deal with filing approximately 180,000 affidavits as residents would be required to file the affidavits to prove the home is their main residence and that they are entitled to the 50% exemption.

We contacted the Uinta County Assessor Lori Perkins and the Uinta County Treasurer Terry Brimhall to get local facts on property tax assessment and distribution.

According to Perkins, every county assessor has to set the values for the year by “Neighborhood and Land Economic Areas.” Perkins sets the values on the land first, which are also determined by the sales in that area. In setting the market value on the neighborhoods, the assessor’s office has each home in that neighborhood valued by square footage, roof type, siding, year built, quality and condition.

The assessor’s office then looks at the sales in that neighborhood and if the assessed values are low, they have to apply a market adjustment to bring that neighborhood to market value. The sales can fluctuate with economic downturns and upswings.

The 2024 taxes are based on the sale of homes from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2023. Perkins said county assessors use the federal appraisal program Marshall & Swift to assist in valuing the homes. They can also refer to the Wyoming Department of Revenue Rules and Regulations for help in setting the values.

“When a person from out of state sells their home there for millions and comes to Wyoming, they have no problem offering hundreds of thousands in cash for a home here,” Perkins said. “We have to have five or more valid sales in a neighborhood and, if this happens, every home in that neighborhood gets the same market adjustment. These inflated sales can hurt the taxpayers in those neighborhoods.”

Perkins said, once the values are set, her office informs the district entities of the set value so they can budget accordingly. The district entities then submit the levy they will need that year. The county assessor compiles these levies and once they are approved by the Uinta County Commissioners and the State of Wyoming, they are submitted along with the values to Brimhall’s office.

Property tax revenues are distributed throughout the county according to the amount of mill levy designated by each district, Brimhall said. The amount of mill levies for each district is determined by a vote of the people in that district. Though there is a maximum levy set for each district by State Statute, districts may vote to levy below the maximum and levy for only what they need.

Brimhall said mill levy checks are distributed to districts on the second Tuesday of each month. She provided the Herald with a list of the districts receiving mill levies.

As required by the Wyoming Constitution, four mills go to the state general fund, one mill to the state charitable institutions, no maximum of levies to the state debts and interest, and a maximum of 12 mills to the School Foundation Program.

The Wyoming School Foundation Program provides a guaranteed level of funding to every Wyoming public school district. This “guarantee” is essentially a block grant and is based on a number of factors, the most important of which is the number of students enrolled in the district in the prior year. Some of these funds are also transferred into a capital projects fund to construct new school buildings.

School district levies support the state school foundation, elementary and secondary education; the Board of Cooperative Education (BOCES) vocational, terminal continuation and adult education; building fund; recreation; school district bonds and interest; and community college districts.

“Sixty-nine percent of local property taxes are distributed to these entities,” Brimhall said.

Levies are also distributed to the county general fund — a maximum of 12 mills — which supports the operation of the county hospitals, library, county fair, museum, public assistance and social services, airport, civil defense, county building fund, road and bridge, recreation, public health, agricultural and home economics extension, and county bonds and interest.

Municipal operating levies go toward live concerts, police pension, recreation, public health and municipal bonds and interest.

Other special district operating levies go to hospital, cemetery, fire protection, sanitary and improvement, museum, solid waste disposal, weed and pest control, water and sewer, rural health care, conservation (water and soil), senior citizen service, regional transportation authority, flood control, downtown development authority, resort improvements, water conservancy district, improvement and service, emergency medical services, local improvements, irrigation, watershed improvement and drainage district.

Currently, for 2023, the property tax amount for residential and mobile homes totals $11,699,505. If that was reduced by half the county would collect less than $6 million in property taxes to distribute mill levies to those districts who provide very important and needed services.

If the group collecting signatures for a petition to reduce property taxes by 50% overall is successful and a bill is passed, all of the district services listed above would have to be reduced dramatically — and some cut entirely. That means maintaining roads would be at a minimum; emergency services, fire protection, human services would all be reduced; schools would have to cut staff, programs and reduce the number of out-of-town trips for sports and much more.

Think about how important the mill levies — which come from property tax revenue — are in ensuring all of us who live in Uinta County and in the state are able to continue to enjoy vibrant, well-maintained and pleasant communities. Think about the impact of losing half of the property tax income and what would happen to all those services we now enjoy.

The petition that’s circulating, if successful, would harm your friends, family and neighbors. It’s an extreme measure pushed by an extreme group that does not care about you or your family or this community nearly as much as they care about “sticking it to the man” and lowering their own taxes.