BILLINGS — Montanans are finding ways to offset the rising costs of housing, from insurance to property tax, and for some retirees, that means heading back to work.
Bob Bloedel, 67, is a retired general contractor who is returning to the workforce after the tax valuation and subsequent property tax on his home raised significantly.
“I am getting hit quite hard and I don't know who to blame," Bloedel said. "I did build more house than I could afford, but since I built it myself, I could afford it right up until property tax went up."
Bloedel is not alone. Across the state, Montanans are frustrated by the increase, which varies across the state but is averaging around 15% to 20% for property owners.
“It's more than frustration. It's anger," said Brad Molnar, a Republican state senator from Laurel who represents parts of Yellowstone County.
Molnar doesn't mince words when discussing the Legislature's handling of property valuations and taxation during the 2023 session.
“Everybody saw the writing on the wall," Molnar said. "There was nobody anywhere that didn't know that valuations were going to go through the roof, particularly in the largest counties. We knew it. We talked about it, we discussed it, we did nothing.”
Molnar points to factions in the Legislature and members of both parties that he says are hyper focused on protecting local funding.
"We knew it was going to be ugly. What we didn't know was how ugly. We also don't know ugly in what counties," Molnar said. "Some of the larger, more populated counties got hammered, double-digit increases."
Following the 2023 legislative session, Molnar called for a special session three times in an attempt to address the looming property tax hike. Similarly, Democrats called for a special session in July and the far-conservative faction of the Legislature, the Freedom Caucus, recently petitioned for a session in January 2024.
In another attempt to soften the tax hike, Molnar sued the state, arguing the state was not required to collect as many property tax dollars as it did.
"Then the governor's office through the administration filed a lawsuit against the taxpayers in Missoula, and then the Montana Association of Counties filed a lawsuit in favor of the taxpayers, and the governor's office went to battle against the taxpayers. He won. So he will collect another $80 million," Molnar said.
Molnar and other lawmakers know the battle isn't over and expect property taxes to be a big topic in the 2024 elections and next legislative session.
“If the people feel they can't trust those in control, then you're setting yourself up for revolution. Now that revolution is probably at the ballot box," Molnar said. "It might be they don't have any money and can't pay their taxes. So now what are you going to do?”
A question Bloedel is also asking as he tries to figure out how to pay the bills.
“We're not sure what our options are, which direction to turn," Bloedel said.