Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County property owners aren’t likely to receive their latest tax bill before the November election due to a delay by the state in delivering the tax rolls.

Property taxes are a prominent issue in Missoula’s race for mayor, but how much more residents will pay this year won’t be known until the votes have been cast and counted.

Missoula County Treasurer Tyler Gernant described the state’s delay as unusual.

“They’re generally pretty on-the-ball about getting it to us,” he told the Missoula Current. “It’s unclear to me why it’s so far delayed. There seems to be some indication that it’s because of reducing the mills from 95 to 77. But certainly they knew about that a long time ago.”

Missoula County’s decision to levy just 77 state education mills versus the full 95 sought by the state is central to a lawsuit filed by the state against the county. It’s also key to the Montana Quality Education Council’s request to the Montana Supreme Court that it requires counties to levy the full 95 mills.

Roughly 46 counties in Montana are named in the request and some of them, like Missoula County, haven’t received the state’s latest tax rolls.

Jason Slead, communications director for the Montana Department of Revenue, said mill levies are due to the department by the second Monday in September, or 30 days after receiving their certified values.

“The tax roll is to be turned over to the county the second Monday in October,” he said. “However, we are allowed the same number of days the mill levy notification were late to turn over the tax roll. In Missoula County, we are allowed 17 additional days as their mills were provided 17 days beyond their deadline.

Slead said DOR has provided the tax roll to 48 counties, as of Tuesday.

Gernant said taxes would normally have been created last week and printed this week. However, he’s not expecting them to go out until several weeks later with a Dec. 8 due date.

“Normally we’d have it two weeks ago,” said Gernant. “There’s no way we’re going to get tax bills out on time when we’re getting the tax roll this late. We’ll have to change the due date.”

Taxes this year in Missoula County are expected to increase over last year. The state’s newest appraisal cycle increased property values by roughly 45%, and the city and county have both adopted tax increases in their Fiscal Year 24 budgets, including a 5.4% increase by the county and a 9% increase by the city.

The dispute over the state’s school equalization mills could also drive property taxes higher if the state prevails in ordering counties to levy 95 mills over 77.

While the delay in tax rolls isn’t likely to have a significant impact on city and country revenue, it could cause some confusion among property owners and leave some voters with less information when casting a vote for mayor.

“The mortgage companies collect escrow payments monthly. They square that up once a year to make sure they’ve collected enough or that they haven’t collected too much. Those are pretty well regulated by federal law,” Gernant said.

He added that state taxes were delayed once before due to an error in the reporting of mills. That election cycle included a bond, and voters cast their votes in support of the bond before seeing their newest tax bill.

“It was more impactful then because we weren’t able to get the bills out before people voted on the bond,” Gernant said. “This is maybe not quite the same, but it’s an election where property taxes are a big deal.”

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