Barron: Another County Property Tax Relief Program | Columns

CHEYENNE — A new law designed to give longtime low-income residents a cut in their property taxes is something of a cousin to an older model that has been a dud.

Proponents of the Senate 19 bid said they also don’t expect to see many takers this time around.

The bill, SF19, sponsored by the Joint Interim Revenue Committee, gives counties the ability to refund property taxes from the previous year to eligible residents.

The bill easily passed the House and Senate and Governor Mark Gordon signed it into law on July 1.

The bill has undergone careful consideration in the Senate.

Some members wanted to make sure the proposal did not have loopholes that wealthy individuals or temporary residents could use for their benefit.

Since counties would have to pay for tax refunds with their own money, other members of the Senate wondered if there would be a shortage of money for other needs, such as education.

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Statewide K-12 schools receive the bulk of property tax revenue in the county where they are located.

By one estimate, the new program would cost affected counties $3 million a year.

Yet there was no doubt that this or a similar program was needed with soaring residential property values.

Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, said residents in his district, which covers parts of four counties, have seen their home values ​​more than double. The taxes on these homes are now so high that the owners can no longer afford to live there.

“It’s happening all over the state,” Baldwin said.

Applicants to the new program must list their entire household income, which cannot exceed three-quarters of the county’s median gross income, as determined annually by the state Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Additionally, applicants must have resided in Wyoming for five years.

“There’s a good chance a lot of countries won’t. But they have the opportunity,” Baldwin said.

The old existing program is a county property tax deferral. To qualify, owners must give the county a lien on their property. The deferred payment is paid when the house is sold.

Many homeowners do not want a lien on their homes.

As a result, only Teton County has adopted the tax deferral program.

Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs and others have warned of the danger of the county’s reimbursement program.

He said the new proposal requires means testing for applicants.

“Without checks on eligibility, it could explode,” ‘Hicks said.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said anytime the Legislature can give counties some flexibility, that’s a good thing, because that hasn’t always been the case in the past.

He said he thought the program requirements as written might be too prescriptive rather than too loose.

Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, spoke about rising property taxes in Natrona County in recent years.

“That might be the biggest concern I’ve heard from citizens.” he said.

Specifically, he said there were people in Evansville who might need help.

Landen, Sen. Cale Case, R-Fremont, Rothfuss and other supporters said the bill could be fixed.

But while the county property tax rebate bill isn’t expected to be the final answer to the problem of skyrocketing property values, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state more flexibility perished in the house without ever reaching the ground.

Sponsored by Senate Speaker Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, the bill, SJR 2, would have allowed the Legislature to exempt low-income elderly and infirm residents from all or part of their property taxes “if necessary for the support of the poor”.

In their continued efforts to provide property tax relief to low-income or disabled seniors, legislators have been stymied by the constitutional requirement that taxation be equal and uniform across every class of property.

Defeating proposed SJR Amendment 2 leaves the state with only the two county options for deferral or refunds.

The legislature no longer allocates money for the decades-old tax breaks for the elderly and disabled that were administered by the Department of Health.

Joan Barron is a former Capitol Bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron

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