The bottom line is you pay $800 a year in Missoula city taxes on a property worth $250,000, according to city officials.
“Personally, I can’t think of anything in my life that I spend $800 on a year where I get even close to the value of what I get from the city,” Councilwoman Emily Bentley said Tuesday.
This year, the city of Missoula is proposing another citywide taxing district, a Public Safety and Justice District. The two special districts created earlier have seen sharp increases over the past couple of years, so municipal taxes are under even more scrutiny this budget season.
Some council members, though, see $800 on a $250,000 home, or some $67 a month, as a bargain. The amount includes the general fund levy for the operation of police, fire, Municipal Court, parks, streets, financial services and other departments; the citywide districts for parks and roads; voted general obligation bond debt levy; and other levies and services.
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“So I think it’s a tremendous value,” Bentley said.
Special districts aren’t capped, though, and at the most recent council meeting, Councilwoman Caitlin Copple tried to send the proposed Public Safety and Justice District back to committee to set some sort of ceiling. However, pushback from Mayor John Engen and a supermajority vote from the council kept the matter on the floor.
At the meeting, councilors Adam Hertz, Jon Wilkins and Mike O’Herron cast votes that aligned with Copple’s failed bid to send the matter to committee for an amendment. On Tuesday, though, Copple said she isn’t finished pressing for a limit.
“I definitely want to bring up the cap idea in committee,” she said. “However, I am not convinced there is the political will on council to do something like that.”
The breakdown of local taxes assessed to a property can be viewed at Missoula County iTax, csa.co.missoula.mt.us/itax. Generally, the amount that goes to the city is roughly a third of the total bill, Bentley said. That amount excludes any sidewalk assessments or localized special improvement districts.
The Montana Legislature caps a city’s ability to increase property taxes at roughly half the rate of inflation. Some citizens view the citywide special districts – essentially another tax – as a workaround, but Bentley said all the large cities in Montana use the districts, and she questioned the cap.
“If caps were such a great idea, why doesn’t the Legislature put caps on its own taxes?” Bentley said.
If approved, the Public Safety and Justice District would create proper office and storage space for the Missoula Police Department, update large and costly equipment for the Missoula Fire Department, and eventually upgrade the City Attorney’s Office and Municipal Court.
As proposed, the district would add $8.78 to a home worth $239,000 in 2015, and it would add $20.06 to the same home in 2016. Engen has said he anticipates the assessment would remain fairly level after 2016, for at least a few years.
At the most recent council meeting, though, Hertz speculated the Public Safety and Justice District would only increase given the trend with the road and park districts. He also requested the administration present a more detailed plan for the upgrades to Municipal Court and the City Attorney’s Office.
“I can only assume that we’re being shown the 2015 and 2016 numbers because the years further out aren’t going to be pretty,” Hertz said.
To read more from the administration about the proposed district and view protest forms and other related documents, go to ci.missoula.mt.us/1014/Public-Safety-Justice-District.
Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at email@example.com or at (406) 523-5262.