By HDN Staff
Sen. Jon Tester, D- Big Sandy, has scheduled a very timely forum on the impact of property valuation, to be held at the university next Monday.
The Montana Legislature has repeatedly reduced mill value on property in the state, which property owners might think results in a wonderful tax reduction.
There's only one drawback, namely that property taxes are the main source of funding for local governments.
What this means is that if the value of property goes down, the local governments have two options: raise the taxes, or eliminate programs and services.
This includes services many might feel are somewhat important, such as roads, fire departments, law enforcement, and other public services.
The place that might feel it the most, however, is the public schools.
The amount the legislation impacted the schools' budgets in Havre was basically unknown until the actual property valuations came in late in the summer. The final impact was that the taxes raised by each mill levied dropped by about $2,000 per mill. What that meant was that the district had to increase the mill levies significantly raise less revenue.
Havre Public Schools scrambled to make the budget work in possibly the most difficult budgeting process ever. The budget works, thanks to that effort, but it pretty well maximizes the district's ability to deal with loss of revenue.
The reserve is as low as possible, the transportation and community education budgets are stretched thin, and for the district to maintain programs if funds decrease, especially in a time of declining enrollment, raising taxes higher is the only alternative.
The Havre schools are not alone. All K-12 public schools are facing lower revenue from the reduced mills, and so are all city and county governments, which rely on property taxes for operations.
Without raising taxes, programs would have to be cut if any more revenue is lost. Local governments should not be blamed for this dilemma. They are between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
All the Legislature has done with the mill reductions is to pass the buck.
For Montanans to have public services, they have to be paid for somehow.
Let's have some responsibility in government, not trying to look good at someone else's expense.