BOZEMAN — Gallatin County is among 49 counties out of the 56 in Montana that decided to charge residents less than what was expected of them, but after a Montana Supreme Court ruling, residents in those 49 counties will now be receiving a second bill.
“It was expected. I think what wasn't expected was just, you know, the total proportion increased by about 30%,” says Bozeman resident Steven Ranney.
Ranney and his wife Jennifer Martin have been homeowners in Bozeman since 2019. This year, their property taxes increased by 30 percent. On one hand, they are happy their home value has gone up.
“Now, we're kind of stuck. You know, even if we did sell it, we couldn't afford to move anywhere else," says Ranney.
Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley was one of the first county leaders to challenge the state by charging its residents 77 mills rather than 95 mills for school equalization; he saw it as a way to provide tax relief after tax assessments increased this year.
“Cooler heads told us to back off, that’s the way it's been done for 20 years. That may be interpreted wrong, but I took it to the executive board of MACO and started asking all the leaders of the counties what they thought of the operations. And everybody looked and says it sounds like you are right,” says McGinley.
Some counties sued the state, leading to the Montana Supreme Court's determination that counties must charge the 95 mills. Now, counties are forced to send a second tax bill to residents.
“It's going to be challenging to communicate this very well with the public. And it's certainly from an operational point of view, challenging for our treasurer's office,” says Gallatin County Commissioner Zach Brown.
Gallatin County sends one of the highest amounts of tax dollars to the state—with the 77.9 mills, they would have sent just over $56 million. With 95 mills, the county is sending the state more than $68 million, an additional $12 million.
“Weve got to come up with $600,000,” says McGinley.
In a statement, the Governor's Office said:
“The governor appreciates the Montana Supreme Court bringing clarity to the law around 95 public school mills, which the state collects and returns in full to school districts. Property taxes are too high, and in the short term, the Governor's $1,350 property tax rebate provides the average Montana homeowner with relief that more than offsets property tax increases this year and next.”
Moving forward residents, county leaders, and the governor want to see property tax reform.
“There is some serious work that needs to be done on property taxes in the State of Montana,” says McGinley.
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