Wide-open land, blue skies and Italian marble baths

Montana State Roundup

Published September 1, 2002  | September 2002 issue

Data from the 2000 census shows a puzzling contrast in some parts of western Montana: counties with low personal income, yet high property values. This discrepancy, however, is explained by the impact of increasing construction and purchase of vacation homes within those areas.

Realtors report a continuing strong demand for vacation home property in picturesque western Montana, especially along lakes, rivers or any source of water. Many owners of these seasonal homes live in other states for the majority of the year; thus, while the vacation homes' values bolster median county property values in the census, the owners' incomes are recorded in their home states and do not contribute to local median income.

This results in situations like Lake County, which has Montana's sixth highest median property value—$117,200—but 36th highest median household income at $28,740. Within the county, nearly one in five homes is worth $200,000 or more; statewide, the median home value is $99,300. Officials cite the vacation homes as a tax benefit to their communities; they boost the local tax base and allow schools or local governments to raise levies with far lesser tax increases. In addition, while they increase local tax income, vacation residences often do not increase the year-round demand for government services.

Benjamin Knelman