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Mineral County sends tax bill to Forest Service

March 15, 2018 GMT

The Forest Service will be receiving a property tax bill from Mineral County this year. County Commissioners Laurie Johnston, Roman Zylawy and Duane Simons signed the letter March 9 requesting property tax revenue for 2017. The “historic letter” as defined by Rep. Denley Loge, describes the plight Mineral County is facing as options to fund the county have dried up.

With over 90 percent of the county owned by the government, primarily the Forest Service, this leaves less than 10 percent of the tax burden on private land owners. Both Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools Act were established to offset the loss of land to the government, but have not been renewed this year.

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“The loss of funding from the federal government has left Mineral County, Montana with no other alternative than to assess the Federal Government for their portion of the property taxes on 640,183 acres they manage within Mineral County,” the commission’s letter states.

That tax total is $445,337.

The letter was spearheaded by St. Regis School Board member, Carol Young, who presented the idea to both Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte during their recent visits to Mineral County. Both of them said they would take a look at the letter and Daines said he would present it to legislation, saying the letter made a good point.

“My thought is why shouldn’t all this federal land pay tax just like all the rest of the property owners?” Young said during a recent meeting with Daines. “It would be an immediate way for us to get our economy built up. We wouldn’t have to try and get things through Congress, instead we can simply send a tax bill and it would be between half a million and three quarters of a million dollars a year. We are currently on our way to zero funding from the government. We all pay property tax and here’s a million acres of land all around us and the burden of the taxes is on that 7 percent private landowners.”

Zylawy said they know the tax bill is a shot in the dark, but it’s a way to get the conversation going about the plight facing rural counties like Mineral.

The letter was sent to Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture; U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester; U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte; and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.