Note:  this article was originally posted on May 17th.  As of last week, 06/21/18. S&K paid the back property taxes mentioned in this article to Lake County, but did so under protest.

© 2018 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

……. might just be starting to come around.

Just this week the Montana Department of Revenue sent the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes a $172,000 tax bill for 10 years of back taxes owed on the S&K Technology property located on Highway 93 in St. Ignatius, Montana.  The tribe now has 30 days to pay their bill.

This action is the result of many months of research and effort by Lake County to review property holdings of the CSKT that are exempt from the property tax rolls.

While Montana Statutes  (15-6-201) provide for property tax exemptions related to some tribal properties, this one should never have been classified as exempt by the Montana Department of Revenue:

Governmental, Charitable, And Educational Categories — Exempt Property

“…..federally recognized Indian tribes in the state if the property is located entirely within the exterior boundaries of the reservation of the tribe that owns the property and the property is used exclusively by the tribe for essential government services. Essential government services are tribal government administration, fire, police, public health, education, recreation, sewer, water, pollution control, public transit, and public parks and recreational facilities……”

The statute related to Tribal Property tax exemptions go on to say:

“the property subject to exemption may not be:

…..operated for gain or profit; held under contract to operate, lease, or sell by a taxable individual;  used or possessed exclusively by a taxable individual or entity; or held by a tribal corporation except for educational purposes…..”

It seems that Montana statutes DO NOT provide for a property tax exemption of the S & K Technology property, and hence the action of mailing a tax bill to the tribes.

In 2003 the CSKT purchased this property and it was placed in exempt status by the Montana Department of Revenue at the time.

So with this recent turn of events, a reasonable person might want to ask a few questions:

  • This property was in exempt status for 15 years.  Why did the Montana Department of Revenue only bill them for 10 years of back taxes and not 15?
  • How many other similar CSKT owned properties in Lake County have been “exempted” from tax and how much is owed on them?
  • In 1984 the CSKT promised by tribal resolution to pay the taxes on Kerr Dam, however reneged on that promise AFTER their acquisition of the dam in 2015. Will Lake County be able to recover back taxes on Kerr Dam too?
  • How did these properties receive an exemption in the first place? Is there a flaw in the Montana Department of Revenue procedures that allowed this to happen?
  • Are there similar issues related to CSKT owned properties in Sanders, Flathead and Missoula counties?
  • Will all of these counties take the steps necessary for reimbursement of any back taxes and to ensure this problem cannot rear its ugly head on these properties and / or others in the future?
  • Could this be the tip of a big fat property tax iceberg?

This is very good news for the people living in Lake County who are aware of the never ending stream of tribal property acquisitions and wondering about its implications to our own property taxes and negative consequences to local county governance.

We certainly hope that this shines a massive amount of sunshine on the impact of these land acquisitions and the way at least some of them have been treated by the state causing financial harm to local governance and the taxpayers footing the bills.

The property tax implications of this one issue alone could be astounding.

The greatest of thanks to our Lake County Commissioners and their staff who  successfully pushed this issue toward the issuance of a long overdue tax bill.

The ball is now in the tribe’s  court.

Will they choose to do the right thing and pay the bill?

We’ll be sure to let you know.

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