GPPS to access protested taxes for operations

The Great Falls Public Schools district is seeking to access protested taxes again this year.

During their June 10 meeting, the school board voted to request the funds through the county, which is allowable under state law.

Calumet has protested their taxes again this year and is a continuation of the 2017-2018 protest case that has not yet been settled.

Dept. of Revenue files appeal over Calumet taxes

Last year, Calumet protested their 2017 taxable value. The Montana Department of Revenue set their value at $538 million. In February 2018, the three-person county tax appeal board lowered the value to $312.5 million. Calumet had requested their value be lowered to $190.7 million.

Both Calumet and the DOR appealed that decision to the Montana Tax Appeal Board last March.

The state tax appeal board hearing is scheduled for February 2020.

A number of refineries around the state have protested their taxable values in recent years and several of those case are also pending before the state board.

Calumet protests taxes, county tax appeal board lowers taxable value by more than $200 million

The Montana Tax Appeal Board will issue a written decision after hearing the appeal.  Either party aggrieved by a decision of the Montana Tax Appeal Board may seek judicial review in Lewis and Clark County or in the judicial district in which the property is located. Judicial review must be sought within 60 days of the date of the decision of the Montana Tax Appeal Board. If granted, judicial review will not be an evidentiary hearing but will be based on the findings of fact issued in the Montana Tax Appeal Board decision, testing only the legal conclusions of that decision.

For GFPS, county officials were unsure during a Monday meeting of the total protested taxes for the district. Since the second half of property taxes are typically paid in June, the district expects to have a firmer number at the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Last year, the protested taxes amounted to about $2.5 million.

Brian Patrick, director of business operations at GFPS, said the school budgets aren’t set based on mill values the way counties and cities are, but instead are based on numbers of students, teachers and buildings.

Without the protested taxes, Patrick said the district wouldn’t be able to make bond payments.

“We really don’t have the option to go to the people who bought the bonds and say we’re sorry, we can’t pay,” Patrick said.

Once the protest is settled, the district might have to pay back the protested taxes. But for school districts, state law allows a permissive levy to make up that money, Patrick said.

The money was budgeted, and without the request, wouldn’t be received in total.

“It’s money that we wouldn’t have to operate,” Patrick told the board on Monday.

“The district has received two sets of numbers which vary widely from the County in regards to the amount of the protest. Rather than choose an amount that may not be correct, we will better be able to determine the exact amount after the second half of taxes have been received in June,” according to GFPS.

GFPS isn’t the only local entity feeling the squeeze from the Calumet protest.

County budget officer Mary Embleton said during the May 30 compensation board meeting that protested taxes equated to $2.1 million county-wide so far this fiscal year. For that county’s tax revenue, that was $387,770, Embleton said.

For the city, the Calumet protest created a $2.1 million impact on city tax revenues and this year’s estimate is $1.1 million. The city’s finance director said that number would become more clear once the city received the second half of taxes for this fiscal year.

Both city and county officials have said it’s too risky to use those funds until the protest is settled, since they run the risk of having to pay it back depending on the outcome of the tax appeal board decision.