CODY — Dan Schein, chairman of the board of Cody Cupboard, said he’s seen longtime customers no longer come in for free food at the pantry.
It’s not that they no longer need the service. They moved away, having been deprived of awards to live in Cody.
Now he’s worried about what will happen with a steep increase in property taxes for many other homeowners with fixed or limited budgets.
“It’s a fine line to walk, as our numbers go up, it’s a poor reflection on our county,” Schein said. “I wish we had no business because no one needs us.”
Park County commissioners are at least considering what kind of impact it would mean to their budget if they took a lower percentage of county property taxes this year. This would result in a county factory tax reduction.
Commissioner Lee Livingston also implored lawmakers and other influential people to try to bolster tax relief programs as a short-term solution.
County Assessor Pat Meyer, two local state lawmakers, a challenger and a few members of the public all spoke at the end of a meeting of county commissioners on Tuesday afternoon to discuss how best to reduce the impact of current or future tax hikes similar to the huge spikes this year.
Livingston said taking one plant less than the county’s maximum allowable amount would mean about $800,000 less in revenue. The commissioners will determine what a possible cut like that would do to the overall revenue picture and whether it would still generate roughly the same revenue as last year.
“I hate to put it that way, but $800,000 isn’t a lot,” he said, “but it’s something.”
Schein asked commissioners to consider a lower mileage rate as a way to set a good example and encourage special districts to take less than the maximum amount allowed. He said many special districts sat on large reservations. Chairman Dossie Overfield said it would also be possible to take half mills.
The hospital, fire department, cemeteries, and Northwest College are also among those receiving mills.
“Our budgeting process is not very good,” Meyer said. “Boards, they can budget whatever they want, put in reserves whatever they want.
“It would be nice if county commissioners could say (special districts) don’t need so many mills, but you can’t.”
The county and special districts are currently working on budget proposals for commissioners to review. Meyer said he could not recall any entity taking less than the maximum allowed.
The school district, which receives the largest proportion of factory tax each year, must collect the highest mileage as part of a statewide program to fairly fund schools.
“We only control 12 of the 76 factories that exist,” Overfield said. “We have to look at our budget, see where they are. That’s the only thing commissioners can do except work with you on legislation.
Livingston said he understands a property tax cap might be popular in the state legislature, but since it would have to be done as a constitutional amendment, it would be too late for many people.
He said what would help the most would be to strengthen programs that allow homeowners under certain income and asset limits to have up to half of their property taxes exempt.
Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) said she and other lawmakers could push to increase income and asset limits to allow more people to take a break.
Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody) also expressed a desire to help secure property tax relief in Cheyenne.
The two representatives are planning meetings to provide information to the public about the tax breaks.
“In the short term, (the tax relief programs) are the only thing to fix,” Livingston said. “To wait for the legislature… we’re going to get people out. A short-term fix has to happen; we can’t just wait for the legislation. It will be too little, too late.
This story was published on May 18, 2022.