As I have chatted with folks around Great Falls over the past two weeks since the May 8th mail-in school district levy and Park District 1 election, folks have expressed some surprise that the school levy failed while the Park District proposal passed. I’ve wondered the same thing myself because the school levy was a much smaller tax increase proposal, $1.49 million, than the Park District proposal, $1.5 million annually for the first three years up to approximately $12.6 million over 20 years.
Now it seems likely that one of the main reasons that happened is because a lot of voters may not have been aware that the creation of Park District 1 carries with it a significant tax increase for property owners.
Why wouldn’t voters be aware of that important piece of information? Because it wasn’t included on the ballot as required by Montana law as I and many others read it.
The ballot language for the school district tax increase included the required information – total amount ($1,349,047.67), total mill 9.84 mills, and annual cost of the tax increase per home market value ($100,00 = $13.28 and $200,00 = $26.57)
In contrast here is the exact ballot language, on the same ballot, for the creation of the Park District.
“Great Falls Park District Number 1
Shall the proposition to organize Great Falls Park District Number 1 be adopted?
(By voting yes, you support creation of Great Falls Park District Number 1 for the purpose of providing certain maintenance, purchasing and improvement services for City-owned facilities, land, and equipment under the responsibility and care of the City of Great Falls Park and Recreation Department and providing for other matters properly relating thereto.)”
That’s it. Not one word about how much it’s going to cost you, or even that it’s going to cost you, if you vote “Yes”.
Montana Code Annotated states very clearly that “…The form of the ballot must reflect the content of the resolution or charter amendment and must include a statement of the impact of the election on a home valued at $100,000 and a home valued at $200,000 in the district in terms of actual dollars in additional property taxes that would be imposed on residences with those values if the mill levy were to pass. The ballot may also include a statement of the impact of the election on homes of any other value in the district, if appropriate.” –http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0150/chapter_0100/part_0040/section_0250/0150-0100-0040-0250.html
It’s possible that a lawyer could argue what the meaning of the word “is” is and claim that the above MCA language only pertains to levies, technically, not to special district assessments but that seems a stretch to me since the resolution proposing Park District 1 includes the fiscal impact: “…the estimated 2018 assessment for a property with a 2017 Market Value of $100,000 would be $22.92 per year.”
But a simple, common sense reading of other applicable MCA language seems to close the door on any “assessment vs levy” loophole.
See http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0070/chapter_0110/part_0100/section_0110/0070-0110-0100-0110.html – “(3)The election must be conducted in accordance with Title 13, chapter 1, part 5” …and http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0130/chapter_0010/part_0050/section_0050/0130-0010-0050-0050.html – “(5) Unless otherwise specified by law, conduct of the election, voter registration, and how votes must be cast, counted, and canvassed for a special purpose election must be conducted in accordance with the applicable provisions of this title. ”
Then there’s this from the City Park & Rec website: “The cost of the proposed improvements for the district is $1.5 million annually for the first three years; …the assessment method will be based on taxable value; The amount of the assessment can be adjusted annually and must be set by resolution and adopted by the City Commission.” (That last sentence ought to scare the poop out every Great Falls citizen.)
Here’s my question: Was the Park District 1 fiscal impact language intentionally left off the ballot in an effort to deceive voters, making it more likely they would vote “Yes”?
“Here’s my question: Was the Park District 1 fiscal impact language intentionally left off the ballot in an effort to deceive voters, making it more likely they would vote ‘yes’?”
Who’s watching out for us, the taxpayers who pay ALL the bills? Certainly not our do-nothing, failed city commissioners and mayor who should have been on top of this to make certain that the ballot language was “the whole truth”.
I have just recently learned that a local citizen has written a letter referring this issue to the Cascade County Attorney and was told that “it would take some time for them to respond”. I will keep readers informed on the progress of this development.
In the meantime we should all be writing letters and making our voices heard – this apparent ballot sleight of hand is unacceptable and should not be allowed to stand in my opinion. I believe the appropriate course of action would be to send the issue back to the voters with the required information included on the ballot. In fact we should demand it.