Apr 23, 2015

Local homes keep growing in value

Park County homes continued to gain value in 2014 — which will likely mean somewhat higher property tax bills this year.

Park County Assessor Pat Meyer says residential properties in Powell and Cody generally rose in value by 3 to 5 percent between 2013 and 2014.
File photo courtesy woodleywonderworks under CC BY

“That’s pretty much due just to the way the market’s going,” Meyer said Tuesday. “We’re doing a little better, but no major increases.”

Among county homes with 10 acres of property or less, the median sales price last year was $215,000 — up about $2,000 from the year before, Meyer said. (The average sales price, which is more heavily influenced by exceptionally expensive properties, jumped up to $242,889 from 2013’s figure of $228,286.)

The number of sales also rose.

A total of 345 residential properties changed hands in 2014, Meyer said. That’s about two dozen more verified sales than were reported in 2013.

The data from the assessor's office also suggests Cody remains a generally more expensive place to buy a house than Powell: the median single family home sold for $212,000 in Cody last year, compared to $173,000 over in Powell.

“You’re going to pay more for a house in Cody if it was the exact same one as you would (have) in Powell,” Meyer said.

Townhouses and condominiums didn’t have as strong of a year. Thirty-five of the residences sold in the county last year — about a dozen fewer than 2013 — and while the median sales price rose slightly, to $139,500, the average townhouse sold for about $5,000 less than the year before, a total of $152,169.

The assessor’s office recently mailed notices to property owners across Park County, giving them updated figures on the estimated “fair market value” of their property.

“You’re going to pay more for a house in Cody if it was the exact same one as you would (have) in Powell,” Assessor Pat Meyer said.

The market value is based in part on what comparable properties have fetched and is intended to reflect the price that a well-informed buyer and seller would reach if the property was on the market for a reasonable amount of time and neither party’s acting under pressure.

Residential and commercial properties are subject to taxes on 9.5 percent of the fair market value. The actual property tax rates are determined by a variety of local governmental entities ranging from school boards to cemetery districts in a process referred to as setting the mill levy.

In contrast with residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial lands, subject to taxes on only a small fraction of their value, minerals like oil and natural gas are taxed on 100 percent of their value. That means changes in oil and gas production bring much bigger swings in tax revenue than shifts in the value of homes and other properties.

In fact, thanks to the recent downturn in the mineral industry — which compromised more than half of the county’s overall value last year — Meyer figures the county’s overall valuation and property tax base will sink by 3 or 4 percent this year.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as bad this year as once anticipated,” he said. “And I have no idea about next year yet, but that would be the bad one.”

He noted that oil and gas operators already had around six good months this past year before things really started dropping.

Thanks to the recent downturn in the mineral industry, Meyer figures the county’s overall valuation and property tax base will sink by 3 or 4 percent this year.

Park County’s schools, county government, cities, towns, fire districts, college, hospitals, weed and pest district, cemeteries and other taxing entities collected a total of $61.86 million in property taxes last year. A 3 to 4 percent drop in value could mean a couple million dollars less.

Apr 21, 2015

Yellowstone’s East Gate sees snowmobile revival

Relaxed rules for winter visits to Yellowstone National Park Proved something of a boon for the park’s eastern gate.

A total of 269 snowmobilers ventured through the park’s East Entrance between Dec. 22 and March 1. That’s up by more than 100 people from the previous winter and represents the highest number of snowmobile visits through the gate since 2006.

“It’s very encouraging for us, because we’ve been just been holding on by the skin of our teeth, waiting for things to change to make our business a little more viable in there,” said Dede Fales.

Snowmobilers are pictured along the Firehole River in Midway Geyser Basin during a guided snowmobile tour in January. Photo courtesy Neal Herbert, National Park Service
Fales co-owns Gary Fales Outfitting of Wapiti with her husband, and they’ve long been the only outfit providing guided snowmobile trips through Yellowstone’s East Entrance. But Fales said the difference-maker this season was that the National Park Service also allowed some visitors to head into Yellowstone without a paid guide.

That change actually boosted the Fales' business, as it brought in a different group of customers who didn't want to hire a guide, but did need to rent the Fales' specialized machines. (Snowmobiles in the park have to generally be cleaner-burning and quieter than everyday sleds, and they can only be used for six years.)

“It felt like the guided trips basically stayed about the same, but we had all the additional business with people that went in without a guide — which was great,” Fales said, adding later that, “I think we’ve reached a good (level). We’re able to take care of the people that want to go in.”

No one can confuse the past season’s uptick with the East Entrance’s long-gone heyday: back during the winter of 2001-2002, for example, more than 4,000 snowmobilers ventured into the park.

“It’s very encouraging for us, because we’ve been just been holding on by the skin of our teeth, waiting for things to change to make our business a little more viable in there,” Fales said.

Since then, the Park Service implemented limits on the number of snow machines that can enter the park to answer concerns about pollution and impacts to wildlife. Under the current rules, which took effect in December, no more than 25 snowmobiles (20 led by a commercial guide and five not) can pass through the East Entrance on a given day.

“You can’t really build up a very big rental business because you can never rent more than five sleds (to a non-commercial group) a day,” Fales said. “It’s tough, and maybe a lot of days you’re going to have only one or two (rentals). But still, to have it in addition to our guided business, it’s better. Definitely better.”

In addition to the 269 snowmobilers, 273 skiers ventured through the East Entrance this winter, making for a total of 542 local winter visitors. There were 437 total visitors last year.

No snowcoach services are offered through the east gate.

With 269 snowmobilers visiting Yellowstone through the east entrance this winter, it was the local gate's best season for snowmobiling in nearly a decade.

Across all of Yellowstone’s entrances, a total of 45,024 people visited Yellowstone by snowmobile, snowcoach or ski this winter. That was a roughly 4 percent decline from the year before. The dip appears to have been largely due to some poor snow conditions, said Yellowstone park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett.

Warmer temperatures and a lack of snow made some portions of the groomed road between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful get all the way down to pavement in February — and that forced park managers to temporarily prohibit snowmobiles and snowcoaches with skis from traveling the popular route.

Bartlett said the visitation numbers indicate the restrictions are what drove overall snowmobile trips down by about 22 percent from the season before.

“It wasn’t a reflection of the winter use policy or anything like that,” she said.

This was the first time since 2003 that snowmobilers were allowed to enter the park without a paid guide. Bartlett said a group will review the season to see if any changes to the non-commercially guided program are needed.

In addition to having to use machines that meet the park’s “Best Available Technology” requirements, all drivers (including one designated as the non-commercial guide) had to take an online certification course.

Even with the improved numbers, the winter season is barely a blip on the radar compared to the visitors seen during the summer season.

While local officials fought hard to preserve winter access to Yellowstone through the East Entrance and its avalanche-prone Sylvan Pass, even the improved numbers for the winter season are a blip compared to the summer season. Last summer, the East Gate welcomed 465,151 visitors — meaning that more people passed through the gate during a couple busy hours in July than did this whole winter.

Park-wide, snowcoach riders, snowmobilers and skiers represent just more than 1 percent of annual visits to Yellowstone.

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