- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The University of Wyoming is challenging a state tax board’s decision that it must pay property taxes on a relatively new $15 million student apartment complex on the Laramie campus.

The Bison Run Village apartments, located east of War Memorial Stadium, opened in the fall of 2012 and houses about 330 students. The university manages and operates the complex but does not own it. In order to build the complex, the university it had to enter into a complex financing arrangement with a nonprofit corporation that helps colleges finance campus housing.

“We certainly are operating it, and it’s part of our campus housing,” UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said. “We pay for everybody who runs it and everybody who works there.”

However, the Albany County Assessor determined that the complex was a commercial operation and should be subject to local property taxes. The Albany County Board of Equalization ruled against the assessor and said it should be exempt.

The State Board of Equalization, which decides tax disputes in the state, overturned the Albany County board’s ruling last month.

UW then filed a petition in Albany County District Court this past week seeking to have the state board’s decision reversed.

Baldwin said the annual property tax bill at stake is about $70,000.

The three-member State Board of Equalization has a standing policy of not commenting on any of its decisions.

The board concluded in its decision that “Bison Run’s primary purpose is commercial in nature” because of the financing arrangement UW crafted with the nonprofit organization that built the complex.

Under the arrangement, UW, which is the state’s only public four-year university, won’t gain ownership of the Bison Run complex until the debt is paid off.

UW officials disagree that the apartments are a commercial operation.

“There is no evidence that Bison Run is being run as a ‘commercial’ operation; rather, the income generated from Bison Run is focused on cost recovery to ensure the bonds used to finance it are paid back,” UW’s petition states.

UW officials also noted with special concern that the state board’s reasons for ruling against the university included the argument that students are not required to live in the apartment complex and therefore it is not primarily used for a governmental purpose, which are allowed the tax exemption.

“So extending that line of reasoning we see a potential for taxation of other campus dwellings,” Baldwin said.

The only UW students required to live on campus are freshmen, who stay in residence halls.

UW has three other student apartment complexes similar to the Bison Run apartments, although the university owns them.

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