Two opposing views on CI-121 to set Montana property taxes

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Constitutional Initiative 121, titled ‘Cap Montana Property Taxes’, taps into the deep resentment of Montana property owners over rapidly rising property values, leading to what many consider unsustainable property taxes.

Congressional candidate Dr. Al Olszewski is a supporter of the initiative.

“Our property taxes are not going to go up 10, 20, or 30 percent every two years,” Dr. Olszewski said. “Instead, they can only increase by 2% per year and your property taxes cannot exceed 1% of the value of your property. Thus, a house that was worth $200,000 could only be taxed at a maximum of $2,000 per year.

Dr. Olszewski said it would be up to the Montana legislature to fix what he called “our broken property tax system.”

“If you read Constitutional Initiative 121, it just tells lawmakers that they need to fix the property tax system,” he said. “You have to value it at what you paid for it or if you’ve owned it for more than five years, what it was worth before the coronavirus pandemic drove up our house prices too much.”

One of the opponents of the initiative is State Senator Greg Hertz, who said CI-121 does not treat all homeowners fairly.

“Everyone is concerned about property taxes in Montana, but this Constitutional Initiative 121 is simply not the answer or the solution, primarily because it shifts taxes from one ratepayer to another,” said Hertz.

Hertz provided examples of why it considers the CI-121 to be unfair.

“What will happen is that the city ratepayers share of county and school taxes due to the 1% cap will now be transferred to county ratepayers,” he said. “So now all of a sudden, as a county taxpayer, my taxes are going up, and that’s not really fair. Also, that city ratepayer will still be able to vote on levies to continue raising taxes, which could impact my taxes as a county ratepayer.

Hertz said property tax relief is definitely on the agenda for the next legislative session.

“We have taxpayer assistance programs in place,” he said. “And a lot of them, though, are based on old appraisals from when the average home price was around $200,000, so we need to increase that amount so that more people become eligible. And with inflation, we need to increase the eligibility limits to as much as who qualifies for low income, so we’ll most likely be looking at some of those excesses, and we’ve set up a pool and moving forward to that we can provide tax relief for seniors and low-income people.

KGVO pointed Senator Hertz to a KGVO News article that revealed a nearly $400 million surplus from tax revenues in which Hertz said those funds should be returned to taxpayers. KGVO suggested that the excess could be applied to increasing property taxes.

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