- Associated Press - Sunday, February 7, 2016

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - A district judge has sided with the University of Wyoming in the college’s dispute over property taxes on a student apartment complex.

In a decision filed Jan. 29, Judge Jeffrey Donnell ruled that the Bison Run Village, a 9.14-acre on-campus apartment complex, is exempt from local property taxes under Wyoming statute.

The university contends Bison Run is tax-exempt and expressed concern taxing the property would set a precedent for other UW apartment complexes, such as Landmark Village Apartments, River Village Apartments and Spanish Walk Apartments.

But Albany County Assessor Grant Showacre argued Wyoming statutes and Department of Revenue regulations clearly indicate the property should be taxed because the Bison Run complex is run as a commercial enterprise, the Laramie Boomerang reported (https://bit.ly/1nMW3id).

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.

In November 2013, the Albany County Board of Equalization determined in a 2-1 decision that the property is not subject to county property taxes.

But in July, the state equalization board decided in favor of Showacre, arguing Bison Run qualifies as a housing service operating in a primarily commercial and proprietary manner. UW subsequently appealed, moving the case to District Court.

Ultimately, Donnell’s decision determines Bison Run’s purpose is to provide housing for UW students and is used as “reasonably necessary or essential facilities” for efficient university operation and maintenance. Therefore, Donnell concluded, Bison Run is entitled to tax-exempt status, and the county equalization board’s decision was correct.

“This court cannot conclude that the university’s decision to fund the construction of Bison Run by using a nonprofit corporation, whose mission it is to assist schools in financing on-campus housing, should be dispositive of the tax-exempt status of Bison Run by rendering it proprietary in nature,” his decision states. “There is nothing here to support a conclusion that Bison Run is a “commercial” enterprise.”

Showacre said he was surprised by the District Court decision.

“We think we have a very good case,” he said. “The county board decision, by how we understand the state statutes and rules and regulations, was why we went forward. And the state board of equalization supported that decision.”

Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent, one of the attorneys representing Showacre, said no decision had yet been made on whether to appeal the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court. She declined to comment on the ruling itself.

UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said the university was satisfied with the outcome.

“The university is obviously pleased with the ruling and the judge’s finding that student housing is clearly part of the university’s academic mission,” he said.


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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