Flathead Earns Dubious Distinction

By Beacon Staff

Because we like examining taxes so much we do it all year round, not just during tax season, this week the Beacon assembled a chart comparing a small sampling of 2006 property tax bills among homeowners in six of Montana’s largest and fastest growing counties.

On average, Flathead County taxes top the list.

Before steam starts coming out of your ears, read on. An enormous number of variables determine the amount of property taxes you pay, including but not limited to whether you live on city or county land, your sewer and fire districts, garbage collection costs, and others.

Nearly two-thirds of property taxes collected go toward education, so the single biggest variable determining how much you pay is decided by the school district in which you live. School mill levies are generally higher in Flathead than much of the rest of the state, which appears to account for the higher tax bills in the accompanying chart. But Flathead County taxes collected for county functions generally run higher than some other counties in the state.

The county treasurers who provided the information categorize different services and functions in different categories, so a more detailed look at how much money collected for a specific function, like noxious weed mitigation, in Flathead compares to Gallatin or Yellowstone County, is complex.

For the chart, we asked county treasurers to send us 2006 tax bills from homes with an assessed market value as close to $150,000, $200,000 or $250,000 as they could find. Those homes are in cities, so the city assessment fees are included in the tax payment, with a ballpark estimate of those fees included next to the city’s name. In Ravalli County, the treasurer could not find homes in Hamilton close enough to the $200,000 and $250,000 price range, so the second two properties listed are on county, not city land.

For all tax bills, the homes were in the city’s main school district. Also, the numbers in the chart are taken directly from individual tax bills, they are not averages or composites.