Friday’s hour-long Talk Back program has been aptly named “City Talk” because of the subject matter; property taxes.
(read the story to the end to see a little light at the end of the property tax tunnel.)
Guests in the KGVO studio included Ginny Merriam, Director of Communications for the City of Missoula, City Councilor Gwen Jones and Leigh Griffing, Director of Finance for the City of Missoula.
Griffing started the conversation with a brief explanation of Missoula property taxes.
“So if you own a property in the city of Missoula, you will receive a tax bill every year,” Griffing said. “Only part of this sum will come from the city to pay for the operations of the city. We are talking about the streets, the police, the fire department and so on. But then the rest of your property tax bill will come in to support local schools; to support the county and all of their respective operations.
Griffing explained the constraints on the city on the amount of property taxes that can be increased from year to year.
“The city can only increase by half the average inflation rate of the past three years,” she said. “But then if your property has been appraised by the Department of Revenue, and they do it every two years, they come up and say, ‘we think your property’s market value is as follows’ and then there is has a calculation to have your assessed value. If they see properties increasing all around you, they will say that your market value has increased as well, therefore your assessed value has increased and you could receive higher tax.
Gwen Jones, who has been responsible for studying the history of property taxes in Missoula, explained her own personal property tax situation.
“I kind of live in central Missoula and in the year 2000 the property taxes on my house were $ 1,500 and now they are $ 6,500,” Jones said. “So as a city councilor I followed this and watched it and got heartburn because it’s a totally unsustainable trajectory, and it makes the budget all the more stressful. “
Jones looked back over 30 years and detailed how the tax burden shifted more and more to the individual and business owner.
“In 1987, in Montana, 33% of property tax revenue came from the residential and commercial sectors,” she said. “In 2013 it was 63%, and here in Missoula in 2018 we could derive 89% of our property tax revenue from the residential and commercial sectors. So we’re all paying for it, because that’s the way it’s put together right now. I think we need tax reform. I think we need lawmakers to look at this and figure out how we can start taking money out of pockets. “
Jones is convinced that the Montana state legislature must develop a different property tax structure because in her own words “the growth in property taxes in Missoula and throughout Montana is simply unsustainable.”