Most residents in Butte-Silver Bow County will be paying more property taxes to local government and public schools than last year, with the increases reflected in bills mailed out Friday.
The county sent out 19,817 bills, with at least half of the taxes due Nov. 30 and the rest by May 31. Bills will be higher in some cases simply because houses or other property were assessed at higher values this year.
And though it might seem that taxes for county government and schools go up every year, that’s not the case. Over the past five years, if taken collectively, they have barely gone up for the county, and those for Butte School District No. 1 have gone down.
But they are going up for both entities this year.
The increases will vary depending on property values, but homeowners with a house worth $100,000 will pay $18.56 more to local government this year and $33.18 more to School District 1 if they are subject to all its levies.
Because taxes are dropping more than $9 for a separate state-set category listed on tax bills as “county/state schools,” the net combined increase on those homeowners will be $41.58, according to county and school budget officials.
The amounts will be lower for houses valued less than $100,000 and higher for those worth more, of course, and not everyone pays all levies to District 1. Some pay elementary levies to districts in Ramsay, Melrose, or Divide. But District 1 is the largest in the county, and everyone pays its high school levies.
There are several reasons for the hikes.
Residents are paying more to the county this year to help fund four additional firefighters and – for the first time – cover startup and maintenance costs for the waterpark expected to open in May. Voters approved the waterpark in June 2016.
But the lion's share of the county’s increase is to make up for lost revenue, said county budget director Danette Gleason.
In three of the previous four years, county officials tapped about $1 million in reserves from Butte’s industrial taxing district to prop up spending. They did not do that for the current budget approved in August.
Schools got a nice chunk of money when those reserves were tapped, too. But most of the increase for District 1 is tied to changes lawmakers made in the 2017 legislative session, said Dennis Clague, the district’s business director.
In short, lawmakers cut some state funding and let local districts make it up – if they wanted – by raising property taxes. District 1 will get about $1.9 million more in property taxes this year, but more than $1.8 million of that is due to losses in state funding, Clague said.
Voters approved a new elementary technology levy in May, mostly to pay for computers, programs, and software. But of the overall $33.18 increase for District 1 (on houses worth $100,000), that accounts for $6.29, Clague said.
“We would have been levying less had all those legislative changes not been made,” Clague said Friday.
The increases might stick out this year, but over the past five years, there have been decreases for the county and District 1. There was a big drop in fiscal year 2014 – more than $38 for the county on a house worth $100,000 and more than $45 for District 1.
When taken as a whole, the county tax bill over the past five years has gone up only $1.12 for those residents, and it went down $9.08 for District 1.
And residents in some Montana cities face much higher increases this year, in part because of school and municipal bond issues.
Although voters approved a $7.2-million bond issue for the waterpark in 2016 and are now paying that bill through property taxes, District 1 has not floated a bond in several years. And when officials with the county or schools are thinking about one, they let each other know.
“We have worked together to try and time it so we are not always having big bond issues at the same time,” Gleason said.
Although only half of the taxes on bills mailed Friday are due Nov. 30, county treasurer Lori Baker-Patrick said many people pay everything they owe then. That clears their entire tax bill at once and makes it a little easier for her office to process payments when second installment is due May 31, she said.