Natrona County property tax saga guides legislative subcommittee

Natrona County President Paul Bertoglio (center left), former Johnson County assessor Cindy Barlow (far right) and property tax protesters at the joint revenue committee meeting state on September 30 (Wyoming Legislature, YouTube)

CASPER, Wyo – The now infamous ordeal of the more than 3,100 assessments of property tax protests in Natrona County in 2020 gave the Wyoming Legislature Joint Revenue Committee guidance for potential reforms during their meeting in Casper on September 30.

Of these appeals, approximately 1,900 were to be submitted to the Natrona County Equalization Board (BOE), made up of the Natrona County Commission.

Commission President Paul Bertoglio told the committee about the arduous four-month process to hear cases and the limited authority of the commission to adjudicate them.

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Converse County Appraiser Dixie Huxtable, speaking on behalf of the Wyoming County Appraisers Association, told the committee that county BOEs can’t fix a property value, they can only affirm the assessor’s decision or dismiss it based on the information gathered during the hearings.

The committee also heard from Natrona County landowners detailing their cases. He also heard from former Johnson County assessor Cindy Barlow, who has represented dozens of clients at the BOE hearings.

A four-person subcommittee, including House 58 representative Chuck Gray, is now tasked with drafting legislation that could solve some of the problems that have led to the unprecedented number of cases. These possibly included changing the 30-day window in which taxpayers must file protests, changing Wyoming’s status as a nondisclosure state regarding real estate sales, and reviewing the legal presumption that the ratings are correct.

Before then-commissioner Matt Keating became an appraiser in 2019, Natrona County was not in statistical compliance with the state’s mandate and many properties were undervalued. Wyoming (and appraisal offices across the country) use the Computer Aided Mass Appraisal System (CAMA), which determines value in part using all valid sales of properties in a similar land economic zone ( usually a neighborhood).

Fee assessments, which people might use to secure or refinance a mortgage, cannot be used in the CAMA system.

The Wyoming State Board of Equalization submitted Keating’s office to a work order in 2019, after finding “undervaluation and non-uniformity in almost all categories” in previous years.

To meet compliance, Keating and his staff set out to redesign the Land’s Economic Zones, which brought many new values ​​to statistical compliance, but increased (and in some cases, multiplied) final ratings.

Another problem, Bertoglio said, was that characteristic adjustments to properties (such as topographical features that affect the ability to develop land) had been removed from the system.

While many of the new awards brought overall ratings into line, some protesters said their land was valued at the same rate as land in neighborhoods of a very different character.

But Bertoglio said the county had no choice but to affirm Keating’s assessments in many cases. Although he and Keating both said some mistakes were made in individual cases, they said the methodology applied was appropriate.

“The assessor followed the rules,” he said, “and as an equalization board if they follow the rules we literally have to reaffirm, even if it doesn’t pass the smell test . “

The ability of property tax protesters to make their case at hearings was also an area for reform. Taxpayers have 30 days after the postmark on notices of assessment, which are mailed no later than the fourth Monday in April.

Gray said he heard from some voters who, because they checked their mail on an irregular basis, ended up only having 10 days to consider appealing.

Barlow added that the process of combating ratings is overwhelming and cumbersome, and that some of his clients did not receive the sales data that the appraiser used to determine the values ​​before their hearings date, if at all. all.

The sales data used to determine values ​​is not public information because Wyoming is a non-disclosure state. It can only be achieved through the process of “evidence exchange” between the protester and the assessor’s office.

Even with the evidence in hand, Barlow said ordinary citizens often don’t know how to use it to build their case.

“It has turned out to be a process of intimidation, which intimidates the taxpayer and forces them to hire a lawyer and incurs an exponential expense that sometimes far exceeds tax,” Barlow told the committee.

Barlow and property tax protester John Burd told the committee that reassessing Wyoming’s nondisclosure status (making relevant sales data freely available throughout the year) would be the most immediate step the committee could. take to give taxpayers a realistic chance to mount a just protest.

“We have to be able to see the selling price,” Barlow said. “We have to be able to have this data to say that the numbers used by the assessor are correct.”

Gray said he would also consider resurrecting a bill he co-sponsored earlier this year, capping the increase in one-year property tax assessments at 3%, without including increases in value attributable to “any changes, additions, reductions or improvements to the property made during the previous year.

Bertogli said there were around 300 property tax protests in 2021.

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