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Officials consider property tax relief options to help struggling residents

Cheyenne, Wyoming
Domenico Convertini/Flickr Creative Commons
Cheyenne, Wyoming

News brief: 

State and local lawmakers across the Mountain West are eyeing property tax relief as home values rise and many residents, especially seniors on fixed incomes struggle to pay their corresponding tax bills.

In Wyoming, average property taxes rose more than 16 percent in just the past year, asWyoFile reports. A legislative committee moved forward several options last week to try and put money back into people’s pockets. Those included a constitutional restructuring of the state’s tax codes and capping yearly rates based on a home's original purchase price. Currently, a property’s assessed value, which is updated every year, dictates the tax bill.

Susan Martin is a longtime Casper resident who testified at the meeting. She said her annual payments have gone up more than $1,000 over the past few years because real estate values around her keep rising. Even if she makes no improvements to her home, her bill goes up.

“Social Security is not going up. Everything else is going up at the supermarket and everywhere else. I mean, you're just gonna squeeze people until they can't afford their homes anymore and they’re out,” Martin said.

Martin moved to Wyoming decades ago, and acknowledges that her property has more than doubled in value in that time period. But she’s not seeing any immediate income from that, and no homes in her area are affordable at this point.

“Even if I sell it, where do I go?” she said.

Lawmakers elsewhere in the Mountain West, including Idaho and Colorado, have also looked to cut property taxes this summer amid similar un-affordability trends.

Additionally, most states are utilizing existing programs that often target low-income seniors and invite them to apply for refunds. Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Utah offer these types of initiatives, though eligibility requirements and refund amounts depend on the state. Nevada allows exemptions for certain residents but hasn’t funded its program specifically for seniors in recent years.

In Wyoming, these refund programs are seeing record demand, according to WyoFile. Many housing advocates, however, have argued those programs are either poorly advertised, don’t provide enough relief, or have asset requirements that are too strict.

Some Cowboy State officials are proposing more drastic cuts to property tax collections in an effort to make more of an impact on local residents. However, opponents of reform argue that’s a challenge because those dollars go towards an already underfunded education system. Wyoming had some of the largest declines in tax revenues during the pandemic, according to a recent analysis.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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