GFPS accessing protested taxes for operations
The Great Falls Public Schools board voted unanimously during their June 22 meeting to access $1.7 million in taxes protested by Calumet Montana Refining.
Calumet protested their assessed 2019-20 taxes that relate to new construction at the plant in 2016-17.
It’s a continuation of the protest that began in 2017-2018 valuation. The refinery and the Montana Department of Revenue recently settled the case, but local jurisdictions are still waiting on detailed figures for the fiscal impact.
According to the DoR, of the roughly $17 million paid by Calumet under protest for tax years 2017-2019, about $9.5 million will be released to the local jurisdictions and $1.5 million to the state.
Brian Patrick, director of business operations for GFPS, said over the last three years, the district has accessed the protested taxes because it operates on a cash basis. School budgets aren’t set based on mill values the way counties and cities are, he said, 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.
“It’s vitally important that we access the cash,” Patrick told the board June 22.
Once the county treasurer’s office determines the distributions to the district, county and city, 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, and the funds can come from multiple sources within the district budget.
Calumet is the second largest tax payer for the school district, making up about 7 percent of revenues, Patrick said. NorthWestern Energy is the largest at 22 percent.