County, B&G still at odds over taxes

by tammy thornberry

A public hearing concerning a property tax issue within Big Horn County resulted in no action being taken by the State Board of Equalization which conducted the hearing by conference call.

B&G Industries LLC, located at the South Big Horn County Airport, contends it should be tax exempt according to Wyoming State Statute. President Karl Bertagnole said he feels the company should be considered an FBO (Fixed Base Operator). The company is represented by local attorney Randy Royal.

There were several witnesses and a lot of testimony, according to County Assessor Gina Anderson who also testified at the two-day hearing.

In a report to the county commissioners, Airport Manager Carl Meyer said, “My understanding is that they are citing case law that they are running an FBO. Our position is that they are important to the airport, but not vital to the operation.”

Anderson commented, “B&G isn’t vital to the airport but they are an enhancement. We like having them out there.” But she said she feels they aren’t exempt from paying property taxes. The taxes amount to $26,000 to $27,000 per year, according to Bertagnole.

In an interview, Bertagnole cited many of the services his company offers. He said B&G provides a free pilot lounge that provides a television, internet access, a couch, comfortable chairs, a bathroom, coffee, a conference room, and crew cars to take pilots into town that the county doesn’t. He also said B&G employs 13 people, provides jet fuel that the county doesn’t and pays approximately $120,000 in lease and land fees. He added the county can’t or won’t provide these services and that its pilot lounge consists of a toilet and a hard chair with an outdated combination lock on its door.

Pilots bringing passengers to the airport may have to wait for hours for them to be ready to fly home, Bertagnole said. B&G provides these services for them, while the county does not, he said.

However, county officials feel those services don’t exempt B&G from paying property taxes, according to state statute, because they are not necessary to the operation of the airport.

Bertagnole said his company has done nothing but improve the quality of care offered to clients. He also commented that B&G was instrumental in cleaning up the area.

The subject presented before the Board of Equalization quickly became an airport issue rather than about taxes, Meyer said.

Anderson reported to the board that she had done due diligence in researching the issue by contacting other county assessors asking how they handle similar issues.

County Attorney Kim Adams reported this is an important case and could impact state law in Wyoming. She told the commissioners that she and Royal are now required to file written briefs as well as presenting oral arguments. There are a certain number of days for each party to provide the same.

Anderson said she had no idea it could take so long, but the state board may not make a decision on the case for up to one year, a point that was independently verified by Adams.