Taxpayers face “unequal burden” if tax office closes

By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

Three women from the Department of Revenue, Property Assessment Division, said they came to the Carbon County Commissioner’s office to “spread the word” about their office’s possible closing in Red Lodge.
Should it close, the women would have to commute from Billings giving an already “burdened staff less time to assess property will result in current taxpayers carrying a greater and unequal burden,” they said.
Kathy Smiley, Tisa Wright and Aimee Nordlum, present as individuals (not representing their division), stated their case to the three commissioners on Monday morning, Dec. 11.
Smiley summed it up. If the office closes, they will have less time to assess local properties and may not be able to assess them all or fully. “If not assessing property and making sure the tax base is correct, eventually you will end up with a smaller tax base.”
The women noted the changes were coming from cost cutting in the legislature. When asked if they had contacted Carbon County’s local Representative, Seth Berglee, Smiley said, “He’s for small government.” She noted, “We don’t have anyone local on the committee.”
Commissioner Doug Tucker agreed, “He won’t listen to us. He hasn’t treated us very well. But it’s worth a try. It’s very important to us.” He suggested a letter of support. Smiley said the public could listen to the Revenue Interim committee’s testimony online.
The commute would add another two hours to their day making it even more challenging to accomplish all the property assessments they are lagging behind now. “We have over 274 parcels to look at. Already we are just dealing with permanent construction. And 56 new homes have already started.” Smiley said, “We do the big structures, let the out buildings slide for a while when running tight.”
She said one of the legislators said, “We were cut to the bone before; now we’re cutting bone.”
The women couldn’t understand why the legislature would close revenue-generating offices. Then Smiley said they realized, “Property assessment doesn’t bring money into the state. We bring it into local government. It doesn’t go into state coffers.”
Nordlum said, “I was thinking why don’t they think it’s important? That’s why!”
Smiley said, “I’m scared. I’m worried.” The office may be cut this week. If not, it will be vulnerable to cutting “all through 2018.”
Commissioner Bill Bullock repeatedly asked, “What can we do?” He was asked to write letters of support to the legislature and the governor. “Spread the word,” said Smiley. People can write in as well to their legislature and the governor.
Harold Blatty, Executive Director of MACo (Montana Association of Counties), has already stated his opposition to the move to the legislature.
“Already 56 offices have been closed,” said Smiley. Although this office is more active (in volume and properties) than some other counties, she felt it was in the top 14 vulnerable to closure. It will be even more expensive to reopen it. “Our fear is if it doesn’t work and we have to reopen. It’s greater expense!”
Smiley said, “If we have to work out of Billings, we will do our absolute best.” However due to time constraints and deadlines, “things will fall through the cracks. We will have to prioritize.”
Commissioner Scott Blain said, “We appreciate what you do.”
Smiley said, “It’s not going to be more efficient. It’s not going to save money. Local government has to be aware of the ramifications of losing a local presence.”
Nordlum asked, “If we can’t do our job, how can you raise coffers?”
There was always the possibility some couldn’t add the two hours of commuting to their already packed schedule and would quit. “You would lose a knowledge base,” said Smiley. “Owner transfers, Montana Coal and Iron history, not just appraisals… I just wanted to bring it to your attention.”
Bullock said it was “frustrating.”
Nordlum added, “We’re busy with people here. Many farmers and ranchers don’t give a hoot about technology. They call us. Many are not comfortable navigating the web. They all come here. If we’re not here, they’re going to come to you. It’s going to be interesting.”
See revenue.mt.gov/property-assessment for existing website.
For Rep. Berglee: Rep.Seth.Berglee@gmail.com. For Governor: governor.mt.gov/Home/Contact/shareopinion. To listen to testimony:
http://leg.mt.gov/css/Committees/Interim/2013-2014/Revenue-and-Transport...

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Upcoming Events

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    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.
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