Natrona Assessor says 'record' number of property value appeals filed in 2020 - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Natrona Assessor says ‘record’ number of property value appeals filed in 2020

Natrona County Assessor Matt Keating (City of Casper, Youtube)

CASPER, Wyo. — Natrona County Assessor Matt Keating attended the Casper City Council’s Tuesday, June 23 work session to discuss property assessments.

Keating was asked to speak to the city council after the City of Casper received numerous complaints from citizens regarding changes to their property valuations.

Keating told the council that about 3,000 appeals were filed from people disputing their property valuations this year, saying this year saw a “record” number of appeals. He said that 1,748 “informal” appeals were received by the Natrona County Assessor’s Office in 2019.

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Councilman Bob Hopkins asked whether Keating’s office made accommodations to allow people to file formal appeals amid COVID-19 when access to Natrona County offices was limited.

Keating said that there were other means for people to file appeals, such as online. He said the county allowed access to his office starting May 11. He pointed to the approximately 3,000 appeals filed as evidence people had adequate means to file.

Hopkins also asked whether a summary of county-wide changes in valuation would be provided for the public to review. Keating pointed to a document posted to the Natrona County Assessor’s webpage which he said summarizes how people’s property valuations were reached.

When the meeting began, Keating said he thought it would be difficult for anyone but the Wyoming Department of Revenue and the 23 county assessor’s offices across Wyoming to really understand how property valuations are calculated. He said he didn’t expect the Natrona County Commissioners or the city council to be able to fully understand.

Vice Mayor Khrystyn Lutz noted during the work session that if the formulas and language that go into determining the values are too difficult for the average person to understand that the Wyoming Legislature may want to work to make it less complex to understand.

Lutz noted that she has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting, and if it was difficult for her to completely follow Keating’s explanations, it would likely be difficult for others to follow as well.

Keating said that when he became the Natrona County assessor, the office was “broken.” He said that work needed to be done to clean up software used to track the over 47,000 accounts the office manages. Keating repeated an argument he made in 2019 that the Natrona County Assessor’s office has less staff than Laramie County, though Natrona is much larger geographically.

He said the Natrona County Assessor’s office has 13 staff while Laramie County has 21 staff. Because of the staff size, Keating said it would take some time to work through all of the appeals which the office had received.

Keating defended his office’s approach to determining the property values, saying that they were following state statute.

“We are coloring inside the lines,” Keating said, borrowing a phrase from Councilman Mike Huber. “We are implementing the mass appraisal per state statute. If legislation changes, then fine.”

Councilman Steve Cathey said that the main complaint he has heard from people is in regard to increases to their land valuations specifically. Keating said that 1,000s of accounts in Natrona have not had their valuations “updated in a number of years.”

Keaitng said that since the process involves “mass appraisals,” he acknowledged that the assessor’s process may have gotten things wrong in certain instances, but defended the valuations overall.

“Every value that we sent out this year was based off of [2019] sales,” he added. He also tried to explain the formulas used to reach the property valuations. “Do we miss some stuff? Absolutely, without a doubt.”

“I’m very proud of the work that we have done.”

Keating said that the Natrona County Assessor’s Office would hold phone calls with the State Board of Equalization on Wednesday to review the county’s property valuations. He said he expected that board to ultimately approve the county’s abstract.

He added that he expected the Natrona County Board of Equalization to meet in September, adding that his office would defend their assessments.

Cathey said that his own land values were appraised at over three times what he initially paid for it, adding that he’s received a number of complaints from people that their land values have doubled and tripled.

Keating said that his office has re-stratified Natrona County, regrouping property areas in a manner consistent with state law. He said the assessments are based off of sales “of what somebody paid for something similar.”

He said that his goal was to assess values in a uniform and equal way that follows Wyoming law.

Mayor Steve Freel said his own land values had increased $120,000. He used his own property as an example to ask Keating how such a large change was possible.

“We had 1,000s of properties that the land hadn’t been revalued in a number of years,” Keating said. “Your property is one of those.”

Freel also said people have expressed concern that their building values could “possibly drop $30-50K” while land values had increased. He asked Keating to outline the formula being used to apply to properties in the county.

An employee with the assessor’s office said that it is “not going to be just one simple formula.” She said that land values are considered separately from assessing improvements on people’s properties.

The county is divided into “not more than 20” grouped areas and that about 10 such areas are in the City of Casper, the employee estimated. Land is also valued on a square footage or acreage basis with the price per acre going down the larger the area is. Assessments are adjusted based on the area in which a property falls in the county.

Huber encouraged Keating to reach out to the public to help them better understand what is happening with their property values. He said there is a perception among some that the assessor’s office is “out there willy-nilly just guessing and throwing numbers around.”

“I’m not saying you are, but that is a perception that’s out there,” Huber added.

Keating said he has been open to discussing things with people, including communicating with local media and that three meetings have been scheduled for people who have concerns about their valuations.

Wyoming law requires that all property be listed, valued and assessed on an annual basis. Assessment notices must be mailed to taxpayers “on or before the fourth Monday in April, or as soon thereafter as practicable,” according to the Natrona County Assessor’s Office.

“Wyoming Statute 39-13-109(b)(i) requires persons wishing to contest their assessment to file (not later than 30 days after the mail date or postmark) a statement with the Assessor outlining their reason for disagreement with the assessment,” the Natrona County Assessor’s Office adds.

The process to dispute property value assessments is further outlined on the Natrona County Assessor’s Office’s webpage.

If you would like to contact members of the Casper City Council regarding this or any other issue, here is their contact information:

Mayor Steve Freel (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):

Vice Mayor Khrystyn Lutz (Ward I, Term expires 1/3/23):

Councilman Charlie Powell (Ward II, Term Expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Shawn Johnson (Ward II, Term expires 1/3/23):

Councilman Ken Bates (Ward II, Term expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Steve Cathey (Ward III, Term Expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Bob Hopkins (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Mike Huber (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):

Councilman Ray Pacheco (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):

Council members can also be reached by mail at: 200 N. David Street, 82601

If you would like to contact members in your specific ward, but don’t know which ward you are in, a map is available at the City of Casper’s website.