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UW Challenges Decision on Bison Run Village Taxation

August 12, 2015

The University of Wyoming has petitioned for judicial review of a Wyoming State Board of Equalization determination that UW’s Bison Run Village apartments are a commercial operation subject to property taxes.

In a petition filed in Albany County District Court this week, the university argues that the apartments are an inherent part of the university and its educational mission, fulfilling a governmental, non-commercial purpose.

“The evidence shows that Bison Run is an extension of the university’s educational mission by providing a living, learning community focused entirely on the needs of university students, offering educational and programmatic activities that are not offered by commercial housing,” the petition states. “… 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.”

Bison Run Village in the east campus is part of UW’s on-campus student housing, built in 2012 to replace existing housing for sophomore and above students.

Because it lacked bonding capacity to finance the project at the time, the university entered into a complex financing arrangement with CHF, a nonprofit corporation that helps universities finance campus housing. That agreement included an initial contribution of $3.2 million from UW to the project; a 32-year ground lease with CHF allowing construction of the buildings; and an exclusive agreement for UW to manage the complex. UW controls all operations of the apartments and subsidizes the operation, paying for the staff, insurance, maintenance and security.

In November 2013, the Albany County Board of Equalization found that Bison Run Village is exempt from taxation under the Wyoming Constitution, ruling against the Albany County assessor. The State Board of Equalization overturned that decision last month.

The state board’s conclusion that Bison Run Village is not primarily used for a governmental purpose was based, in part, on the fact that students are not required to live there. Other UW apartments are in the same situation; the only UW students required to live on campus are freshmen, and they live in UW’s residence halls.

“The state board decision could have far-reaching implications if left unchallenged,” says UW Vice President for Administration Bill Mai.

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