NorthWestern tax settlement delays county tax bills

by Evelyn Pyburn-Originally published in the print edition of Yellowstone County News.

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY — Property tax bills will be a little late in November as several county school districts apply for recertification as a consequence of a tax dispute settlement between the Montana Department of Revenue and NorthWestern Energy.

The office of Yellowstone County Treasurer Sherry Long is in the process of adjusting tax bills, as some school districts readjust their mill levies to reflect the decline in the state’s assessment of the taxable value of NorthWestern Energy’s property in the county. Long said that the goal is to have the tax bills mailed no later than Nov. 15. Taxpayers are required to pay taxes within 30 days of that date.

Long said that the adjustment is making but a slight difference in the levies – varying from the addition of .30 mills to 1.83 mills. Not all school districts are recertifying.

Schools which recertified their elementary and high school levies include – Custer (0.92 mill increase), Broadview (1.83), Huntley Project (0.88), Lockwood (0.66), Pioneer (0.40), Shepherd (0.91), Independent (0.53), Molt (0.94), Morin (1.25), Laurel (0.45 mills) and Billings (1.32).

Elementary schools which send their high school students to SD2 will experience a .30 mill increase for SD2 high school levy increase, even if they did not recertify their elementary levy. ( A mill equals one-thousandth of a percent.)

NorthWestern Energy negotiated with the state regarding the state’s reassessment of its property value statewide, from 2015 to 2016, increasing it from about $2.2 billion to $2.6 billion. Rather than formally protesting the increased value, Northwestern Energy negotiated with the Department of Revenue to reduce the assessment to $2.4 billion, reducing their taxable value by $220 million, and reducing their potential tax bill by about $10 million.

Because of the timing of the negotiated settlement, the state, in an unusual move, allowed taxing jurisdictions impacted by the change to re-certify their taxable values. Lower taxable property values requires an increase in the amount of mills levied in order to generate the same amount of revenue.

Long explained school budgets did not change. The change is in the number of mills assessed to fulfill budget revenues which have already been set.

Twenty counties will experience some impact from the Northwestern Energy agreement.

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