HELENA - U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, the wealthiest member of Montana's congressional delegation, this week reported a substantial decline in his multimillion-dollar net worth for 2010, primarily because of a new appraisal of his family's land holdings in Billings.

Rehberg's annual financial disclosure form, which every member of Congress files, says his net worth for 2010 ranges from $1.8 million to $3.6 million - a decline from last year's range of $11 million to $52 million.

The decrease is attributed to a reappraisal of Rehberg's real estate and agricultural land holdings on the north edge of Billings, including the Rehberg Ranch housing development, his office said.

Rehberg spokesman Jed Link said Friday that a July 2010 reappraisal of the properties - the first appraisal since 2002 - logged a lower value for the properties and thus the decline in the congressman's assets and net worth for 2010.

"As with any business, there are countless interrelated factors that impact the bottom line, such as local and national market fluctuations, changes in inventory and increases in the cost of doing business," Link said.

The 2002 appraisal of the properties had been the basis for the higher values that were reflected in Rehberg's financial disclosure statements in previous years, which showed a consistent net worth range of $10 million to $50 million-plus.

Rehberg, a Republican in his sixth term, is challenging U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in the 2012 election.

Tester and Montana's other U.S. senator, Democrat Max Baucus, filed their financial disclosure statements last month.

Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, listed $752,000 to $1.5 million in assets, which are primarily his and his wife Sharla's 1,800-acre farm.

Baucus, an attorney from Helena, listed $10,000 to $160,000 in assets, mostly stocks and mutual funds.

Congressional financial disclosure forms require U.S. senators and representatives to list the value of their assets in broad ranges, making it impossible to know their precise net worth.

For example, Rehberg's ranch property where he and his family live, Rehberg Ranch Land and Livestock, had been valued at a range of $5 million to $25 million, but in the 2010 report it dropped into $500,000 to $1 million range.

The yet-to-be-developed portion of his and his wife Jan's real estate development also dropped from a range of $5 million to $25 million in 2009 to $1 million to $5 million last year.

So, taken together, the properties could have dropped in actual value anywhere from $4 million to $48 million.

Rehberg's office said the value of his properties was in the lower end of higher ranges last year, and now is in the middle of the lower ranges.

Link said Rehberg also plans to file an amendment to the financial disclosure statement next week, although it won't make a significant change in the total amounts.

In addition to the housing development and ranch property, Rehberg also reported owning mutual funds, rental property and a company that manages mineral interests. He reported four outstanding loans whose total ranges from $1.4 million to $5.85 million.

Part of Rehberg's housing development property was damaged by a 2008 grass fire that burned some rangeland but didn't damage any homes.

The Rehbergs sued the city of Billings last summer over the city's management of the firefighting efforts in 2008, saying it pulled firefighters too early, leading to the scorching of 1,200 acres meant for development.

The two sides have each said they wish to settle the case, but little formal action in the case has occurred.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at mike.dennison@lee.net.


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