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Reports on Wyoming State Government Activity

Rep. Liz Storer talks property tax bills passed by the Legislature

A home in downtown Cheyenne at dusk.
David Dudley
/
Wyoming Public Media
A home in downtown Cheyenne during dusk.

Wyomingites watched the value of their homes climb ever higher during the pandemic—and they haven't fallen. Median home prices in Wyoming spiked from $96,000 in 2000 to $350,000 in 2023, putting taxpayers across the state in a bind.

In response to this mounting crisis, lawmakers pushed for property tax reform during this year's Legislative budget session. This includes four bills that the legislature passed. They're awaiting Governor Gordon's signature.

Wyoming Public Radio’s David Dudley speaks with Representative Liz Storer (D-Jackson) about the property tax bills, and what Wyomingites may expect.

Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. 

David Dudley: So, first we're going to talk about House Bill 3. I wonder where is that in the process right now? And are you happy with it?

Liz Storer: So, House Bill 3 has been signed by the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President, anyway. I don't think the Governor has acted on it yet. It is the bill that will start in 2025 [if Gov. Gordon signs it], and provide longtime Wyomingites who are over 65 years of age with a significant exemption for property tax, [up to] 50 percent.

DD: And what does that look like for folks in Teton County?

LS: That will be exceedingly meaningful for people in my community. Our median property tax for this year, in Teton County, is over $11,000. That's more than four times what any other county has. So this is a meaningful reduction in taxes for folks in Teton, especially.

DD: If my math is right, then if it's around $11,000, it'll reduce that to about $5,500.

LS: That's right. So an $11,000 [tax] bill would be $5,500 or so.

DD: And what's the age cutoff there? Or where does it begin?

LS: I believe it's 65 years or older. I'm sorry to say that I actually will qualify [laughs]. I'll decide [whether to apply]. You will have to apply for it. It won't come automatically.

In House Bill 4, I brought an idea to the revenue committee to expand the refund program modestly. And there's $20 million in the governor's budget for that. Around 9,000 applicants received refunds through that program this year, and we expect that to grow. There's actually a significant number of people in the state who are eligible for that program who have not applied. And I would encourage them to do so if they're struggling to pay their property tax. We don't know everything about everyone in the state. But looking at what we can estimate, or income levels, that on average, about 10 percent of the people that could be eligible are using the program. So, if you're struggling, it's a great program. It's still the best program we have, and the most constitutional [laughs].

DD: I saw some pushback. How does it feel whenever you're presenting your ideas, and folks are kind of pushing back?

LS: So the pushback yesterday was actually on Senate File 54. SF 54 is the idea that in the next year, we are going to provide across the board property tax exemption. That will be a percentage of your residential structure value. We can do that more easily than your entire property. And that's the bill that will be going to the conference committee here within the hour.

We're still debating how to actually structure that exemption. I came up with an idea that allows for people in my community, who do have these higher home values, even though they're middle class. They're middle class properties, frankly… they're worth between $1 and $3 million in many cases. So I wanted a way to make sure that everyone across the state got something. But the exemption was proportional to the amount of tax you paid. So we changed it from a strict dollar figure to a percentage, and then I limited the total amount of fair market value that the exemption can apply to. That will reduce the meaningfulness for very high end properties. And it will also cover second homes, it's getting applied across the board. So those folks are the folks that least need a reduction in their property taxes since they own more than one home, in many cases. And their home in Teton County may be a second home, and it may be a $10 million home. So they'll get a little bit back but not too much.

DD: And then that transitions us into House Bill 45. Where is that? How do you feel about it?

LS: House Bill 45 is a cap bill. It will cap the increase in property values that are driving these high property taxes. So I think we've probably agreed on 4 percent as the total that a property can increase in one year, that the value of it can increase in one year. And while I think it's problematic, it's something I voted for, because it was the only way that we can address these double digit increases that are continuing to take place in the northwest part of the state.

DD: And I know that over the past, what, three to five years? These values have been climbing. But are we thinking that these values are going to hold over the next five years? Ten years?

LS: I think it's good to think about it. I do think this has been a pandemic bubble. We've seen property taxes go up on average, across the state in the last three years, 57 percent. In some parts of the state, like Teton and Lincoln County, they've actually doubled in that period of time. The CREG report [Wyoming's state budget forecast] indicates that this has been a bubble, and it's more likely that we'll see single digit property tax increases this year in most places in the state. I am worried that the demand for properties in Teton County is driven, frankly, by other forces, by a global demand. And that will probably continue to increase our taxes at a significant rate. We'll just have to see. I can't predict the future.

DD: When you say a global demand, what do you mean?

LS: Oh, because a lot of people think Teton County is a great place to live—at least part of the time, part of the year. You can now fly into Jackson Hole from a lot of places, which also makes that much more desirable. And people love the mountains, they love the summers, they love the wildlife. And as a result, the demand for our property is still pretty hot. We're seeing prices taper off. I think in other parts of the state, there's already anecdotal information that property values are going down even.

But the idea with SF 54 is to provide some relief, and recognizing that the last couple of years have had significant increases, and to try to give some of that back. But we're also recognizing that property tax is still an important part of our tax policy. And it's the most stable one. It is the bulk of what people actually do pay in their taxes. And as we've heard from the taxpayers association, most people in Wyoming do not pay for the services they get. They don't pay that much in taxes, especially if you have kids in school.

DD: Is there anything I haven't asked about yet that you think that listeners ought to know?

LS: I think everyone should realize that we're trying to strike a balance. We're recognizing that we're trying to save money because we invest money. And if we invest these funds that the state has, we can keep taxes low. But we also need to pay for services. And we are giving people their money back in the form of services at the county at the state level. And I think people don't always understand that. What they're getting and what it costs.

DD: Yeah, because these funds go towards emergency services, schools and so on.

LS: That's correct. The Taxpayers Association has a "Cowboy Family" scenario of a four-member household, two parents and two kids. And if you have two kids in school in Wyoming, and what that costs, and what the value of that is, as well as your local services. For every $4,400—that's what the average family pays in state and local taxes—they'll get back $60,000 in services. That's a pretty good deal.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.

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