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Montana leaders say property tax task force ready to tackle complex issue

Property Tax Task Force
Posted at 7:29 PM, Feb 14, 2024

HELENA — After a year in which rising property taxes became a major political issue in Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte launched a task force to look at ideas for long-term property tax reform. That task force officially began its work Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“Montana homeowners need relief – and they deserve it, too,” Gianforte told task force members. “That's why we brought this group together, to develop a plan to reform how we do property taxes, with the sole purpose of really bringing relief to homeowners. They're counting on all of us to take decisive action on this issue, and we've got to deliver together.”

The task force includes state agency directors, lawmakers, local elected officials and other stakeholders. Ryan Osmundson, Gianforte’s budget director, is serving as chair.

“We've had a lot of conversations with legislators, county commissioners, city council across the state, and it's an issue that constituents have brought up – all property tax payers across Montana have brought it up to some extent,” Osmundson told MTN. “Certainly we are taking it very seriously.”

Property taxes rose to the front of many Montanans’ minds last summer, when the state announced updated property assessments and many residents saw their home values spike. While the administration has touted the state’s program to provide tax rebates on primary residences, Gianforte said that was only a short-term response, and the task force would have to look at longer-term options.

Gianforte told the task force he wanted recommendations that would slow the growth in property taxes, increase transparency and public engagement and ensure residents wouldn’t lose their homes because of property taxes. However, he said one recommendation would be off the table.

“We must do all of this without imposing a statewide sales tax – period,” he said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, task force members talked about the problems they saw in the property tax system. They identified things like shifts in the state’s tax base, putting more of the burden on residential property; a need to increase public understanding of the levy process; and questions over whether the people using services in the state are the ones paying taxes to fund them.

Over the coming months, the group will break into three subcommittees to start talking about how to address these issues. One will focus on impacts to education, one on local government and one on tax fairness and equity – a key issue, as leaders noted that any change in property taxes for one group could have a follow-on effect somewhere else.

“We have a lot of great minds around the table, a lot of great folks that are really concerned about this and are going to dig in, and so I'm extremely optimistic that we will find some solutions that will at least help solve long-term,” Osmundson said.

The vast majority of property taxes in Montana go to counties, cities, school districts and other local jurisdictions. Gianforte has frequently pointed to local government spending policies as a driver of property tax increases – a characterization a number of local leaders have objected to.

Osmundson said Wednesday that it was too early to give any specific indications about what the task force might recommend, but he said they would have to take a look at local governments.

“There's a lot of counties that are doing a great job that are living inside of inflation,” he said. “Frankly, there's times that I think some of them are growing too slowly, and they're not providing what the citizens want. Others may be growing too fast. So I'm not going to point blame here, but the reality of it is, it has to be looked at because it's part of our property tax system.”

Osmundson says the task force’s goal is to have a report together by August.

You can find more information about the task force and their meetings by going to propertytaxreform.mt.gov.