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Five things the Wyoming Legislature did to ease rising property taxes

During a session largely defined by conflict, lawmakers were mostly united when it came to property tax relief. It’s now up to Gov. Mark Gordon to decide what will become law.

Property taxes in Wyoming fund local services like K-12 education and transportation, water and sewer, law enforcement, libraries and the construction and maintenance of roads and sidewalks. (Alex Belser/WyoFile)

When it came to the Wyoming Legislature’s top non-budget priority this session, lawmakers settled on five bills to address rising residential property taxes. 

Altogether, the legislation creates new exemptions for homeowners and certain senior citizens, doubles an existing exemption for veterans, caps annual increases and expands eligibility for a state refund program. 

While much of the session was defined by conflict, property tax relief was one area where lawmakers were largely united. The five bills to make it across the finish line received almost unanimous support in their final votes in both chambers. 

“The passage of these bills is a monumental victory for the hard-working people of Wyoming, and it is the culmination of a united effort across the entire Legislature,” Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee, said in a press release. 

The Joint Revenue Committee sponsored three of the five bills that passed. The other two bills were brought by Sen. Ed Cooper (R-Ten Sleep) and Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo).

Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) sits at his desk during the 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

Property taxes have jumped in much of Wyoming in recent years as home values have increased. But addressing the rising cost for homeowners hasn’t been straightforward for lawmakers. For one, property taxes fund local governments, so cutting them risks drying up revenue for public services. 

Another challenge lies in the Wyoming Constitution, which groups residential property in the same tax class as commercial and industrial properties — largely preventing lawmakers from making isolated changes to how homes are taxed. That said, voters will have the opportunity in November to separate residential property into its own category thanks to 2023 legislation.  

In the meantime, the fate of all five bills now rests with Gov. Mark Gordon. 

“Property tax reform is a complex issue affecting county resources, roads and schools among other issues, yet it is also pressing,” Gordon said in his State of the State address. 

“I have no doubt this Legislature will seek a balance that properly addresses citizens’ concerns about rising assessed valuations without leaving counties or schools high and dry.”

Gordon can take one of three actions on each bill — sign it into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it altogether. 

Refund program

A record number of Wyoming residents used the state’s property tax refund program last summer after the Legislature expanded it during the 2023 session. 

Lawmakers took things a step further this year with House Bill 4 – Property tax refund program. The bill expands income eligibility for a refund from someone earning 125% of the county’s median gross household income to 165%. It also implements a tiered system for eligibility requirements. Higher earners would get refunds at a smaller proportion of their property tax bill, and vice versa. 

The idea is to offer relief for residents who were previously ineligible, including those who missed it by just a fraction. 

Another change to the program relates to oversight. 

The House amended the bill to allow county treasurers to refer any refunds to the Department of Audit for review since “there’s a belief that there is some misuse of this program,” Rep. Ember Oakley (R-Riverton) said during a conference committee meeting. 

Because the refund program is funded by the state, it will not have a fiscal impact on local services. Partly for this reason, Gordon advocated for the property tax refund program in his State of the State address

Veterans exemption 

The remaining four bills either create a new property tax exemption or expand one that’s already on the books. 

Senate File 89 – Veterans ad valorem exemption-amount doubles an existing exemption for certain veterans. More specifically, it increases the exemption on the assessed value of a home from $3,000 to $6,000. 

Sen. Cooper said he drafted the legislation after hearing from a constituent. 

Sen. Ed Cooper (R-Ten Sleep) applauds during the 2024 legislative session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

“What we’ve had for the last 17 years is that $3,000 exemption for veterans,” Cooper told the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee last month. “I think our veterans are worth a little more than that.”

Senior citizens exemption

Similarly, House Bill 3 – Property tax exemption for long-term homeowners also creates a carveout for military personnel. 

Primarily, HB 3 creates an exemption for homeowners — or their spouses — who are at least 65 years old and have paid Wyoming property taxes for at least 25 years. If a homeowner qualifies, 50% of the assessed value of their home will be exempt. Military personnel who “declare Wyoming as their domicile” will also qualify. 

The exemption would be on the books until July 2027 when it would sunset. 

Homeowner exemptions 

The other two exemption bills would provide relief to a much broader swath of residents. That includes House Bill 45 – Property tax exemption-residential structures and Senate File 54 – Homeowner tax exemption

House Bill 45, brought by Rep. Crago, would exempt annual property tax increases over 4%. 

Structuring what is essentially a tax cap as an exemption, Crago said, was a way to work within the confines of the Wyoming Constitution while still providing immediate relief to taxpayers. 

Lastly, SF 54 would apply a 25% exemption to the first $2 million of a home’s fair market value. The bill includes a sunset provision in 2026, but the Legislature will have the option to extend it. 

Senate files 54 and 89 are the two exemption bills that set aside state funds to reimburse local governments for lost revenue. 

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.