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Government

Flathead Leaders to Join Statewide Property Tax Task Force

The governor’s task force will begin meetings next month and will draft recommendations to reform the property tax system and alleviate the burden on Montana taxpayers

By Denali Sagner
The Montana State Capitol in Helena. Beacon file photo

Following months of conflict over skyrocketing property tax rates, Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday launched a statewide task force set to draft recommendations to reform the property tax system and alleviate the burden on taxpayers.

“We must protect Montana homeowners from rising property taxes, and I look forward to the work of the Property Tax Task Force to reform our property tax system and arrest the rate of growth of property taxes,” Gianforte said in a Wednesday press release.

Among the 23 task force members are Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, Flathead County Commissioner Pam Holmquist and Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson.

The creation of the governor’s task force is latest development in an ongoing battle between state and local officials over who is responsible for rising home values and tax increases. 

The median residential property value in Montana rose 46% between 2021 and 2023 after an influx of pandemic-era migrants put pressure on local housing markets. The median residential property value rose 45% in Flathead County; 54% in Glacier County; 59% in Lincoln County; and 44% in Lake County, according to the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR).

Property tax rates have also risen dramatically. The median Montana property owner in 2023 paid around 21% more on their taxes than they did the year prior, according to the Montana Free Press.

“The appraisals have really affected the affordability of residential properties for many people,” Fern told the Beacon, adding that he is optimistic the task force can create “a very strong document and series of recommendations” for reforming property tax policy.

The Whitefish legislator said the creation of the governor’s task force reflects a “recognition that there’s a major storm brewing.”

Forty-nine of Montana’s 56 counties this fall rejected an order by the state to collect the full amount of a school equalization tax, arguing that rising home values would push up tax bills, burdening homeowners. The state Supreme Court in November ruled against the counties in a lawsuit brought by the Montana Association of Counties (MACo), forcing county governments to collect the full tax, which is set to bring in an additional $99 million in revenue for the 2024 fiscal year. While the governor’s office chastised county governments for fiscal irresponsibility, municipal and county leaders charged the Legislature and Gianforte administration with failing to address the threat of tax increases during the legislative session.

A push by the Montana Freedom Caucus to convene for a special legislative session to address property taxes failed earlier this month.

Holmquist said she is eager to bring the county perspective to the task force and hopes it will offer opportunities to educate taxpayers on the complicated formulas that make up state and local taxes.

“I’m honored to be asked and thankful to have a seat at the table, and I’m really looking forward to having these discussions,” she said.

The Flathead County commissioner added that she is adamant about protecting a statute in Montana law that caps the amount of taxes a governmental entity is able to levy in a year.

The governor has asked the task force to provide a number of recommendations, including proposals that will arrest the rate of growth of property taxes; increase transparency and clarity of property tax bills; increase transparency of and public engagement in public budgeting; increase public participation for mill levy ballot measures; ensure property taxes paid by Montana resident homeowners and on Montana long-term rentals reflect well on supporting homeownership and workforce housing; ensure each Montana child has access to a quality education; and ensure lower-income Montana homeowners, homeowners who are on a fixed income, and disabled veterans or their surviving spouse are not at risk of losing their home because of property taxes.

The task force will meet for the first time in February and will provide a written report of policy recommendations by Aug. 15.

Here is the full list of task force members:

  • Ryan Osmundson, task force chair and director of the Office of Budget and Program Planning
  • Sen. Greg Hertz (R-Polson), chair of Senate Taxation Committee, member of Joint Education Committee
  • Sen. Tom McGillvray (R-Billings), member of Senate Finance & Claims Committee, member of Appropriations and Finance & Claims Committee
  • Sen. Shane Morigeau (D-Missoula), member of Senate Finance & Claims Committee, Joint Education Committee
  • Rep. David Bedey (R-Hamilton), chair of Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, member of Joint Education Committee
  • Rep. Dave Fern (D-Whitefish), member of House Taxation Committee
  • Rep. Llew Jones (R-Conrad), chair of House Appropriations Committee, chair of Joint Appropriations and Finance & Claims Committee
  • Brendan Beatty, director of the Montana Department of Revenue
  • Manish Bhatt, senior policy analyst with the Center for State Tax Policy at the Tax Foundation
  • Kendall Cotton, president and CEO of the Frontier Institute
  • Errol Galt, commissioner of Meagher County
  • Pam Holmquist, commissioner of Flathead County 
  • Jeremy Horpedahl, Ph.D., associate professor of economics and director of Arkansas Center for Research in Economics at the University of Central Arkansas
  • Dwaine Iverson, board member of the Montana Taxpayers Association and CPA
  • Cyndi Johnson, president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation
  • Sean Logan, commissioner of City of Helena
  • Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association
  • Gordon Oelkers, commissioner of Roosevelt County
  • Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce
  • Justin Ross, Ph.D., professor of economics and public finance, Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University; co-editor-in-chief of Public Budgeting & Finance
  • Derek “DJ” Smith, president of the Montana Association of Realtors
  • Sandra Vasecka, council member of the City of Missoula
  • Ronda Wiggers, Montana State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business

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