At least two local towns are questioning the validity of the property taxes Fremont County imposed on them this year.
Fremont County Assessor Tara Berg charged a $2,700 tax for the Shoshoni Medical Clinic and a $10,000 tax for the Lander Community Center, according to town hall meetings held this week.
She said the two facilities are used to provide services outside of government jurisdiction, in direct competition with private enterprise, so they are not eligible for government tax exemption.
Government property is tax-exempt as long as it is “used primarily for governmental purposes,” according to the Wyoming Constitution.
The “governmental purpose” is not explicitly defined – and some argue that it should not be – but state property tax rules state that “if a service is rendered free of charge, supported by taxes , and for public welfare or general enjoyment, property associated with the provision of this service is exempt” from tax.
Based on that language, Shoshoni shouldn’t have to pay taxes on his medical clinic, City Clerk Chris Konija told the Wyoming Legislature Joint Committee on Revenue during a meeting this week in Lander.
The clinic only exists because the city built it, bought its equipment and found a service provider willing to occupy the space, Konija pointed out.
“It’s not profitable and it’s not self-sufficient,” he said. “(We) subsidize, essentially, this service.”
A similar situation exists in Lander: the city’s treasurer, Charri Lara, said the local community center had not made a profit during her 16-year tenure.
In fact, she says, in the first year after the new community center was built, the operation lost $97,000.
The city is also losing money on its golf course, which was also taxed this year, Lara said.
Both municipalities plan to embark on the convoluted and costly property tax appeals process, which is particularly burdensome for small towns like Shoshoni.
Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith said the assessor’s office should shoulder that burden instead.
“If the tax authority thinks we don’t meet that (exemption) requirement…they should be the ones to appeal, not us,” Highsmith said.
For its part, the Joint Revenue Committee said it would consider resurrecting a 2020 bill that would more clearly define the term “governmental purpose.”
The legislation failed to make it to the Wyoming Senate that year.
In its current form, the bill states that “government purpose” property is used for “health, safety and welfare.”
The definition includes “community event centers” and “state, city or county health departments” — but not “medical clinics operated by a private entity,” like Shoshoni’s.
The next CCR meeting is scheduled for September in Casper.