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Montana Senate Considering Bill to Allow Mediation for Property Valuation Disputes

Friday, February, 22, 2013

Senator Fred Thomas of Montana is sponsoring a bill that allows property owners the opportunity to dispute the valuation of their property, as assessed by the state’s Revenue Department.  If it passes, Senate Bill 280 would allow businesses to appeal the values placed on their properties by the state, both at the district level and, if necessary, in the Montana Supreme Court. 

According to Thomas, “Mediation is the wave of the future.  I have used it in work."  Thomas has also garnered the support of several industries and entities within the state, including the Montana Taxpayers Association, Century Link, Puget Sound Energy, Portland General Electric, Avista, Montana Petroleum Association, Montana County Treasurers Association, Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana Association of Realtors, Montana Association, MDU Resources and AT&T.

Nancy Schlepp, the president of one of the supporting entities, Montana Taxpayers Association, had this to say about the potential of the bill.  “We’re hoping to have a place where everyone could sit down and resolve at least some of the issues without having to go to litigation.”  In her encouragement of the bill’s purpose, she continued to state, “These cases are large and complex.  Taxpayers have to fund and participate in at least two layers of appeals.  It’s costly to citizens.”

With only a few opponents, Senate Bill 280 is expected to pass.  One such opponent, State Revenue Director Mike Kadas, claims that the current system is working just fine and that Montana should operate under the premise of avoiding change when nothing is broken.  “The notion of a tax appeal board is very common,” said the Director.  “It is something that is used throughout the country.  When we have areas of particularly complex laws that are not the normal milk-and-potatoes kind of law, we have special courts to deal with them.”

Kadas continued to assert that undermining the State Tax Appeal Board would mean sending such disputes to the District Courts, which are unprepared and untrained in dealing with this sort of issue.  He believed that it would create problems in a system that, according to him, is running fine without any changes.  He also asserted that such a move would allow businesses to “forum shop,” and search for the judicial pathway that would best benefit them.