In this decade, property values have shot up in the state as the economy boomed and wealthy new residents moved in. In the latest statewide reappraisal, covering the seven years up to Jan. 1, residential property values increased an average of 56 percent. The value of forestlands rose 46 percent, and commercial property appreciated 35 percent.
The increases are good news for state and local governments; higher valuations yield millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. But homeowners, businesses, ranchers and forestland owners are worried about higher property tax bills, and that worries politicians. Gov. Brian Schweitzer has pledged to not let property taxes rise, on average, statewide because of reappraisal. And legislators, some of whom have questioned whether the reappraisal reflects probable recent declines in property values due to the recession, were scrambling in the new session to ease the sting for taxpayers.
Lawmakers in areas of the state where property values have risen the most, such as the Flathead Valley and Madison County, want to help long-time residents who fear being priced out of their homes.
A Senate-House taxation subcommittee was expected to hash out a number of strategies for providing relief, including lowering tax rates, phasing in new property values and granting tax exemptions to low-income people.