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Oakley v. Fremont County Community College District

July 30, 2010

EILEEN OAKLEY, FREMONT COUNTY ASSESSOR, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
FREMONT COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT D/B/A CENTRAL WYOMING COLLEGE, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Fremont County, The Honorable Norman E. Young, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brooks, District Judge.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, VOIGT*fn1, and BURKE, JJ, and BROOKS, D.J.

[¶1] The Fremont County Assessor (the Assessor) appeals from a decision of the district court exempting from taxation certain property in Riverton owned by Central Wyoming College (CWC). We reverse because the district court's holding was not in accordance with Article 15, § 12 of the Wyoming Constitution.

ISSUE

[¶2] The parties agree that the sole issue on appeal is whether certain lots within CWC's business park are exempt from taxation based on their current use.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

[¶3] CWC is a public, non-profit, fully accredited, two-year community college that was established in 1966. CWC is primarily funded by state and local taxes, scholarship funds, tuition, and fees. CWC established a business park in 1967 to generate revenue from the leasing of land owned by the college. The CWC Foundation manages the business park property pursuant to a long-term management lease with CWC. Community college foundations are recognized by statute for the purpose of raising additional revenues for the college. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-16-1102 (a)(iii) (LexisNexis 2009).

[¶4] CWC currently owns 333 acres; 193 acres are contiguous in Riverton and include 50 acres comprising the business park. Twenty-five acres of the business park are divided into lots, and have been developed and leased by CWC to 10 for-profit tenants. These 25 acres and lots are the subject of this appeal.

[¶5] The lots in question are leased to a daycare facility, a law office, a doctor's office, an investment company, a development company, and other private businesses that are independent from and unrelated to CWC. The business park tenants are, in theory, selected to enhance the educational purpose of the college and may provide internships. The record does not indicate, however, that any of the businesses actually hire, train, or have any significant contact with students, staff, or faculty of CWC. Neither the Assessor nor CWC contend otherwise. The revenues derived by the business park are collected and managed by the CWC Foundation. The Foundation receives a fee and the residual income is used for CWC student scholarships, programs, and activities.

[¶6] The Assessor issued a 2007 Notice of Tax Assessment for the business park property leased to the for-profit tenants. The Assessor concluded that because the subject property was being leased for commercial profit, it was subject to taxation. CWC protested the tax assessment and a hearing was held before the Fremont County Board of Equalization. That board affirmed the decision of the Assessor. It specifically found:

4. All lots involved in this protest are leased and all Lessees are private individuals or business entities and thus, the primary use of the lots in question are used for a commercial purpose.

5. All these Lessees are in a commercial venture in that, as the Assessor['s] uncontroverted testimony indicates each exists to obtain profit, that each sells a product or service, that none are exempt under the Internal Revenue Service tax code . . . .

[ΒΆ7] CWC appealed the matter to the State Board of Equalization. The State Board heard the matter and affirmed the decision of the County Board. CWC next filed a Petition for Review in the Ninth Judicial District Court. The district court reversed the decision of the State Board of Equalization. The court found that the business park was reasonably necessary to the efficient operation and maintenance of CWC. The district court noted that the original plan for the business park was to help provide for the technical and vocational education of ...


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