City to consider tax assessments during Aug. 15 meeting

City Commissioners will be asked to set several assessments during their Aug. 15 meeting.

They’ll be asked to set the boulevard district, park district, street maintenance district, special improvement lighting districts and the Portage Meadows assessments.

City officials had initially planned to set the general property tax mill levy and permissive medical levy during this week’s meeting, but have opted to wait until the Sept. 5 meeting due to an appeal by Calumet.

Melissa Kinzler, city finance director, said that the city has received its certified taxable values from the Montana Department of Revenue, but the Calumet appeal might require recertification of those taxable values.

Kinzler said she didn’t have details of the appeal but had heard from the state that Calumet was in an appeal process that could possibly affect values enough to warrant a recertification.

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The Montana Department of Revenue told The Electric that like any taxpayer, Calumet had 30 days to review their 2023 assessment notice and filed a request for an informal review for Montana Renewables and Calumet.

DOR is “currently in the informal appeal stage and working with the taxpayer to gather information. At this point, we have not finalized out review of the information provided,” according to the department.

Montana Renewables, which is the new biofuels company that much of Calumet’s local property now falls under, applied for a tax abatement under Montana law for their air or water pollution control and carbon capture equipment, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

“The application requested all equipment associated with Montana Renewables be considered air pollution control equipment/carbon capture equipment. The Department of Environmental Quality is responsible for specifying procedures necessary to identify air and water pollution control and carbon capture equipment for certification and compliance, as well as identifying and tracking compliance. Montana DEQ reviewed the application and does not consider the entire facility to be air pollution or carbon capture equipment. DEQ requested additional information regarding equipment that would be considered air pollution control equipment/carbon capture equipment. Montana Renewables has requested an informal conference. DEQ will meet with them and continue to follow the process outlined [under the state administrative rules], relative to a final determination regarding the facility tax status,” Moira Davin, a DEQ spokeswoman, told The Electric.

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A civil lawsuit was filed against Calumet and Montana Renewables earlier in August by Burns and McDonnell Engineering Company of Missouri.

Calumet and Montana Renewables hired Burns and McDonnell in 2021 to “engineer, procure, and construct certain energy related facilities: on Calumet’s Great Falls property, according to the lawsuit.

The engineering company fully invoiced Calumet and Montana Renewables this summer for $231,829,466.13 for their work on the Great Falls facility.

According to the lawsuit, Calumet and Montana Renewables have not paid a remaining $17,068,660.55 of the total owed to the engineering firm.

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City Commissioners adopted their budget and resolution of intent to increase taxes in July.

During their Aug. 15 meeting, city commissioners will review and set the other special assessments, based on estimated taxable values.

The boulevard district is a special assessment for the care and maintenance of more than 15,000 street trees, including pruning, removal, planting and streetscape design.

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The city assesses property owners within that district to cover the cost of those services performed by the Natural Resources Division of Great Falls Park and Recreation.

This year, city staff is recommending a six percent increase, or $5.77 for the average sized lot, to cover increased costs of maintaining the boulevard district trees for the upcoming fiscal year.

The last boulevard district increase was 12 percent in 2022, according to city staff.

There were no increases to the assessment in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID.

Staff is proposing $0.013581 per square foot, for a total of $481,875 and will equate to about $101.86 for an average size lot of 7,500 square feet.

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The park maintenance district assessment is proposed to remain the same.

The park district was approved by voters in 2018 to cover operation costs for city parks and recreation facilities, particularly focused on needs identified in a 2016 park and rec master plan.

The funds can’t be used for programming.

Staff is proposing to keep the cost at $1.5 million, the same level set in 2018.

The assessment is based on the taxable value of each parcel within the district to raise $1.5 million.

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The city is waiting to confirm the certified taxable values, but based on last year’s valuations, the estimated assessment will be $24.44 on a $100,00 market value property; $48.88 for a $200,000 market value property; and $73.32 for a $300,000 market value property.

The city has 27 special improvement lighting districts with about 9,429 total roadway lights.

Most of the lights are owned by NorthWestern Energy and the city pays a maintenance fee for the lights as well as a fee for electrical transmission and distribution.

The electrical supply for the street lights is from Energy Keepers on a city contract and the other three percent of roadway lights are city-owned, according to staff.

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The lighting district assessment funds are used to maintain the light poles and cover electrical supply costs.

City staff estimates the district needs $1,325,660 for operations, a 14.1 percent increase over last year.

Not all of the districts will have an increased assessment as some have sufficient cash balance to cover operational costs, according to city staff. Some have been using fund balance to offset cost increases, but most don’t have enough to offset the city’s 200 percent increase in electricity costs, according to staff.

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The city maintains about 393 miles of streets and alleys and the street maintenance assessment covers those maintenance and traffic operation costs.

Staff is proposing a 10 percent increase for the new budget year, which began July 1.

The last street assessment increase was 10 percent in 2015 and since then, the cost of asphalt overlays have increased 38 percent, chip seal materials have increased 49 percent and winter maintenance material has increased 65 percent, according to staff.

The proposed 10 percent increase for this budget will allow for pavement preservation to continue at the same rate and account for inflation in material costs, according to staff.

The funds, coupled with state gas tax funds, will allow the street improvement program to continue at the same rate, according to staff.

For an average-sized residential lot of 7,500 square feet, the estimated assessment factor is $0.016170 per square foot, or about $121.27, an estimated increase of $11.02, according to city staff.

The total estimated assessment for the district is $5,041,592.

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The Portage Meadows special improvement maintenance district assessment was established in 1977 to maintain the green belt of the Portage Meadows addition for materials, snow removal, water, mowing, fertilizer aerification and tree pruning as part of the original planned unit development, according to staff.

Staff is proposing a 5 percent increase, or $18.32 annually, for the average sized lot to cover those costs.

The last increase was five percent in 2022 and there was no increased in 2020 or 2021.

The district total cost is an estimated $71,941 for the new budget year, according to staff.

That equates to an estimated assessment of $0.085463 per square foot for an annual $384.67 assessment for an average lot of 4,501 square feet, according to city staff.