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Tax Burdens

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Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

Analyzing Weston County and Wyoming tax rankings

Weston County residents have the fourth-lowest tax burden compared with residents in other Wyoming counties, according to a report SmartAsset made about tax burden in counties across the U.S., but reports and comments from state and local officials indicate that the study may not paint a complete picture.

The financial technology company calculated the amount of money a specific person would pay in income, sales, property and fuel taxes in each county in the country, public relations manager Vanishaa Doshi said in an email on April 2. According to the study, Weston County’s score on a four-dimension rating system is 85.79. Big Horn, Niobrara and Sublette counties have less tax burdens, with scores of 87.27, 87.12 and 86.56, respectively.

Residents of Big Horn and Sublette counties pay less in sales tax compared with those in Weston County, who pay more in property tax compared with Big Horn and Niobrara counties. The Weston County property tax burden, which the report identified as the median property taxes paid in 2023, is $1,324, according to the report.

The report multiplied the average sales tax rate for a county by the household income after taxes by 35%, its estimate of how much income is spent, after taxes, on taxable goods, to estimate that Weston County residents paid $1,056 in sales tax in 2023, while Big Horn County residents paid $1,045, Niobrara County residents paid $1,254, and Sublette County residents paid $836. Hot Springs, Carbon, Goshen, Uinta, Washakie and Lincoln counties pay between $2 and $198 more, depending on the county, compared with Weston County, according to the report.

SmartAsset calculated the fuel tax by multiplying the fuel tax by the company’s estimation of the average gallons of gas that drivers in the county use, which was based on the nationwide average fuel economy, the number of licensed drivers in the county, the number of vehicles in each county and the statewide vehicle miles traveled. Every other county in the top-10 ranking paid between $19 and $73 more for fuel tax compared with Weston County, which paid $211.

By taking the national median household income and applying “relevant deductions and exemptions” before calculating federal, state and local income taxes, the report found that Wyoming residents’ income tax burden is $14,881.

Residents of Denali County in Alaska have the lowest tax burden in the nation, with no sales tax, $389 for property tax and $72 for fuel tax, according to the report.

Doshi did not respond to NLJ’s April 4 request via email for more information regarding the report’s methodology.

Property taxes and assessed value

Weston County Assessor Kara Lenardson said in an email on April 5 that her office assesses and prescribes values on all taxable property in the county and that if anyone has questions or concerns about property tax relief or their property values, she encourages them to contact the assessor’s office.

“Our values, the level of assessment rate and the mill levy determine the property tax bill,” Lenardson said.

According to a document that Lenardson provided that compared Wyoming counties’ median property tax bill amounts for 2023, Weston County’s was $1,185.21. Teton County’s estimate was the highest in the state, at $11,124.80, and Niobrara County’s was the lowest, with $602.73. Campbell County’s median property tax was the median amount: $1,619.70.

The total locally assessed valuation for 2023 for Weston County’s residential personal property was about $2.5 million, according to the Wyoming Department of Revenue’s 2023 Annual Report. Property taxes rose about 12.6% from 2022 to 2023, from $13,264,255 to $14,928,747, the report showed. Converse County had the highest increase over those years, both in terms of percentage, 57.2%, and dollars, with a rise from roughly $166.2 million to $261.3 million. Platte County had the lowest, with a rise of $530,905, or 3.2%.

The department’s report found that the number of applications from Weston County residents for property tax refunds has risen. In tax year 2019, 14 of 15 applications were approved. Thirty-one of 45 applications for tax year 2021 were approved, and 48 of 52 applications for tax year 2022 received approval. The program was not funded for tax year 2020, according to the report.

The overall tax burden on Weston County residents includes taxes that her office does not specifically deal with, such as the sales and fuel taxes, she noted.

Taxpayer tallies

For July 2022 through June 2023, Weston County had the second-lowest total amount of sales and use tax collections, including state and local collections, among Wyoming counties, according to the Wyoming Department of Revenue’s report. The total was just over $6.9 million. Only Niobrara County collected a lower amount: $3.8 million.

The Wyoming Taxpayers Association’s Wyoming Tax Summary and How Wyoming Compares 2023 report said that in 2023, in Weston County, statewide sales taxes amounted to $4.6 million and statewide use taxes amounted to $736,338. The report said that the county’s general purpose sales tax collections were $1.6 million and general purpose use taxes were $184,374, and its specific purpose sales tax collections were $72,386, while its special purpose use taxes were $13,032.

According to another Wyoming Taxpayers Association report, the average family of four in Wyoming, in which both adults consume alcohol and tobacco products, paid $2,390.20 in property taxes on a home valued at $370,000. This “average family,” with a total gross household income of $125,000, paid $1,247.35 in sales and use taxes, $754.41 in fuel tax and fees, and $37.12 in excise tax.

Weston County Treasurer Susie Overman said in an email on April 5 that her office’s role in property taxes is exclusively to receive payments from taxpayers.

“These amounts are all figured in the Assessor’s office and then we download the information into our system and mail out the billing notices,” Overman said.

Jeff Robertson, communications director for the Wyoming Treasurer’s Office, said in an email on April 4 that the office does not address issues that are relevant to the report specifically, but he did offer some insight into comparing taxes in Wyoming to other states.

“The one thing we’d point out when comparing to other states is Wyoming has no state income tax, and our sales tax is lower than most states,” Robertson said.

According to a report by the Tax Foundation published on April 3, Wyoming’s state tax rate, 4%, is the 40th lowest in the country. The Cowboy State’s average local sales tax rate of 1.44%, which the report identified after weighting local tax rates by population, is the 15th-lowest among states that collect local sales taxes, making the state have the 44th-lowest combined sales tax rate.

Wyoming Department of Revenue Director Brenda Henson said in an email on April 5 that she was unable to assist with the article since her department does not conduct the type of analysis that SmartAsset conducts, the company does not list the department as a source.

“It appears their numbers are very general in nature,” she also said.

NLJ emailed questions on April 4 to Wayne Hassinger, Wyoming Department of Transportation fuel tax administration program manager, and Kimberly Peters, program supervisor, and did not receive a response.

New property tax relief laws

Weston County Assessor Kara Lenardson pointed out that several laws are providing targeted property tax relief. For example, the state is again offering the Wyoming Property Tax Refund Program, which will provide tiered refunds for property taxes based on how households’ income compares with the county’s median income, which is $71,290 for Weston County. Applications for those refunds have been available as of April 15 on the Department of Revenue’s website and in the treasurer’s office or the assessor’s office. Households that seek reimbursement must apply by June 3 for these dollars from the state.

According to the Wyoming Department of Revenue’s Wyoming Property Tax Refund System website, people whose income is no more than 145% of the median income for their county or the state, whichever is greater, will receive a refund based on the 75% of their taxes not paid, up to 50% of the median residential tax bill for their county. This amount is reduced 35% for taxpayers whose income is between 126% and 145% of the county’s or state’s income. According to a chart on the department’s website, Wyoming’s median household income is $73,920. Therefore, Weston County residents who make no more than $107,184 may be eligible for property tax refunds.

With Senate File 89, the veteran’s exemption for the 2025 tax year doubled, from $3,000 to $6,000, for assessed value, according to Lenardson.

“Please note ‘assessed value’ does not equal dollar amount,” Lenardson said. “Depending on the tax district the veteran lives in, this amount in tax dollar savings could range from $400-$470.”

In 2023, the state granted 434 exemptions, totaling a tax benefit of $89,425.73 on a total valuation of nearly $1.7 million, to veterans in Weston County, according to the Department of Revenue’s 2023 report.

Legislators passed two property tax bills that are not backfilled by the state, Lenardson said. Since House Bill 45 passed this year, residential structure value increases are capped at 4% for the 2024 tax year. Starting with tax year 2025, this cap will also apply to associated land value, too.

Through the passage of HB 3, for tax years 2025 through 2027, people who are at least 65 who have paid property taxes in Wyoming for at least 25 years and have lived in their Wyoming residence for at least eight of the tax year’s month can apply for a long-term homeowner’s exemption that will cut their taxes on residential structure and associated land by 50%.

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