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Montana leaders preparing recommendations for property tax legislation

Posted at 7:06 PM, Jun 26, 2024

HELENA — For months, state lawmakers and a state task force have been digging into Montana’s property tax system, and now, they’re moving closer to making some recommendations on possible changes.

Rising property taxes became a major political issue in Montana over the last year, after the state announced updated property assessments and many residents saw their home values spike.

Since then, the Legislature’s Revenue Interim Committee has been conducting a study on property taxes, and Governor Greg Gianforte convened a task force to work on addressing the issue.

On Monday, the Revenue Committee conducted a meeting in Helena, and they got an update on the task force’s work.

Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson – who sits on both the committee and the task force – said subcommittees have been looking at ideas such as requiring larger vote thresholds to pass local government levies, requiring all levies to go before voters for reapproval every ten years, and adjusting the inflation factor that caps how much local governments can raise in revenue from levies.

The task force is set to deliver a report to Gianforte by August 15.

Hertz said they’ll be planning for that report at their next meeting July 8, and that they’ll likely have draft recommendations out for public review by late July.

Committee members said they’re waiting to see what the task force recommends, as they consider what actions they want to take on their own.

“I just hope that committee has some clarity pretty soon so we can know what we think our role is in that whole process, too,” said Rep. Larry Brewster, R-Billings.

“Our clarity will be coming soon,” Hertz responded.

The committee also heard updates Monday on a working group led by the Montana Department of Revenue that has been looking at potential changes to how tax rates are set for agricultural land – specifically, how landowners qualify for certain exemptions and reduced rates.

DOR leaders said the current system had created inequities between landowners. They presented three proposed bills Monday: one that would eliminate a land classification that created significantly different tax liabilities based on a parcel’s size, one that would adjust how the state values homes on agricultural land, and one that would require owners of large properties to demonstrate they’re actively using land for agricultural purposes to qualify for a preferential tax rate.

“The purpose of that is for some of these larger properties that have been purchased – say, a 20,000, 30,000-acre ranch – trying to ensure that, if it's receiving the preferential tax treatment for ag classification, it's actually being used in an agricultural capacity and not being used just for someone's recreational playground,” said Bryce Kaatz, bureau chief of DOR’s Property Assessment Division.

In public comment, the committee heard from some people supportive of taking a closer look at these changes and others concerned about potential unintended consequences for agricultural landowners. Committee members decided to delay action and dig deeper into the possible recommendations at their meeting in August, to take a closer look at the impacts.

“There are some significant inequities that exist, and we need to make sure we do everything within our power to set up a predictable, fair and equitable system,” said Rep. Mark Thane, D-Missoula, who sits on the committee and the working group.