After Park County property values rocketed by an average of 24% in 2021, there was some hope that the real estate market might settle down a bit. Sales have slowed, said Park County Assessor Pat …
After Park County property values rocketed by an average of 24% in 2021, there was some hope that the real estate market might settle down a bit. Sales have slowed, said Park County Assessor Pat Meyer, “but the prices aren’t going down” and the market “didn’t stabilize at all” last year.
Local homeowners have been receiving their annual assessments from Meyer’s office in recent days and they’re learning that their properties have jumped another 16% in value, on average. The median sales price of a single family residence hit $415,000 last year — up from $349,000 in 2021 and $286,000 in 2020. And some residents have seen much steeper jumps.
“It’s incredible, you know? And we’re a tourist county: Our median [household] wage is $64,000. How do you buy a house like that?” Meyer asked, answering, “You don’t. … People are going to move.”
No area of the county was immune to the continued surge in prices. According to data compiled by Meyer, the smallest increase was in the City of Cody, where values rose 13%. Clark — which generally missed the biggest jumps a year ago — was hit the hardest this time around, with property values rising an average of 22%.
Although Powell’s home prices rose more rapidly, to a new median of $310,000, the city still remains a significantly cheaper option than Cody. In the county seat, the median home sold for $420,700 last year. Residences in rural Park County, which typically come with quite a bit more acreage, sold for a median price of $614,750.
To put the recent jumps in context, Meyer said Park County saw 3-5% annual increases prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that brought high inflation and an influx of people moving into the area.
“The increases are driven by the huge increase in construction costs and, much more importantly, the money being paid for property in Park County,” the assessor wrote in a letter accompanying this year’s notices.
The current strength of the real estate market can be good news for sellers or those looking to build equity, but it’s bad news when it comes to tax time. If property tax rates remain steady, the owner of a $415,000 home will need to pay around $2,817 in taxes on average, or close to $400 more than what they paid a year ago.
“People are angry,” Meyer said Tuesday, and he’s been referring many to the state’s newly expanded Property Tax Refund Program.
In its winter session, the Wyoming Legislature decided to provide more tax relief to more homeowners. In Park County, many taxpayers can now qualify for an up-to-$1,140 refund if their household income was $86,400 or less last year. That’s conditioned on meeting other requirements related to residency and their assets. Details are available at https://wptrs.wyo.gov/ or by calling the Park County Treasurer’s Office at 307-754-8630, with applications due by June 5.
While Meyer is glad to have the refund program, he said many people are starting to ask, “We’re paying all these taxes, our taxes are going up, but what are they doing with it [the money]?”
“That’s the question I keep asking,” Meyer said.
In 2020, Park County taxpayers were asked to pay around $50.63 million for the property assessed on county’s residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial and personal properties and produced minerals. Last year, following the jump in home values and a resurgence in the oil and gas industry, the total tax bill rose to $62.5 million, according to figures from the Wyoming Department of Revenue.
With oil and gas production and home prices rising further, the bill is likely to jump by another 16% or so this year, with the county’s property tax base swelling to become the biggest it’s ever been, Meyer said.
The bulk of the tax dollars — roughly 62% last year — go to K-12 education, as the Wyoming Constitution requires the state to provide a free, complete and uniform public school system. Property taxes are also a key source for revenue for local governments, including Park County, Powell, Cody and Meeteetse, Northwest College and fire, cemetery, weed and pest and other special districts.
In their recent session, lawmakers considered a slew of bills aimed at providing property relief, including an approach favored by Meyer that would cap the amount that a property’s assessed value can rise in a given year. However, the Legislature eschewed more comprehensive reform in favor of expanding the refund program and proposing a constitutional amendment that could eventually lead to lower tax rates for residential properties.
One of the arguments against a cap was that local governments need the taxes to deal with the same issues that are driving up home prices: high inflation and a growing population. Another contention was that Wyoming has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country.
Various lobbying groups “kept saying, ‘Oh, these [taxes] aren’t too bad. We have it made in Wyoming,’” Meyer said, but “our taxpayers don’t think that.”
He believes government agencies have generally “got enough money” and that the state’s tax ranking has likely worsened in the past couple of years. Meyer himself opposed capping property taxes until last year’s spike in values.
Whether state lawmakers will come around to the idea remains to be seen, but Meyer plans to lobby them again in the interim.
“I just gotta try one more time anyways. I’ve got a lot more things,” he said, “and they should be a little more desperate to find a permanent, long-range solution.”