Local Tax Facts

Not only are taxes inevitable – it can be hard to understand how they get calculated, assessed, and collected.

The finger pointing concerning taxes in Montana is in full swing – counties blaming cities, the state blaming counties and cities, cities blaming the state, state legislators blaming county and city commissioners, county and city commissioners blaming state legislators, Democrats blaming Republicans and vice-a-versa, cats blaming dogs, etc.

Angry citizens blaming all of the above.

Here are a few basic facts to help sort through it all and answer some questions I’ve been hearing lately from Great Falls taxpayers:

  • All property valuations in Great Falls are assessed by the State Department of Revenue, not the City of Great Falls.
  • All of the various classes of property tax rates are determined by the State Legislature, not the Great Falls City Commission, City Manager, or Finance Director. Those current basic multiplier rates are 1.89% for commercial property and 1.35% for residential. Multiply your assessed value times the class rate to determine your taxable value.
  • The overall valuation of taxable property in a given jurisdiction, i.e., school district, county, municipality, is determined by the State Department of Revenue. This year the state DOR assessed an historic increase in newly taxable property within the Great Falls city limits.
  • The local option tax on recreational adult use marijuana sales countywide is calculated at 45% of the 3% tax collected by the County, not the 20% state rate as some have mistakenly suggested. The local 3% ‘weed tax’ will be distributed by formula to the incorporated towns within Cascade County and is estimated be about $240,000 per year for Great Falls. Not chump change, but only a small fraction of the cost of our public safety needs.
  • Local property tax dollars go into the City of Great Falls general fund, out of which our local police, fire, and courts are paid for. Other City services are funded through fees for services etc.

Suspicious Great Falls Death, Former MT Governor Dies, And More

Our regular feature highlighting a few of the latest and most interesting local and national news items from various sources.

Former Montana Governor Schwinden passes away, from MTPR:

Recent rash of Great Falls fires, from KRTV:

Suspicious death in Great Falls, from ABC/FOX NonStop Local:

Letter To The Editor: Firearm Stability Stocks

Editors note: the opinions expressed in “Letters to the Editor” do not necessarily reflect the opinions of E-City Beat, our volunteer staff, or contributors. All letters to the editor are welcome and will be considered for publication. Please include your name and city of residence to ectitybeat@straymoose.com.

Hello E-City Beat – 

I am reaching out because several months ago the Cascade County Libertarian Party sent out letters to all Montana and US Representatives who represent citizens of Great Falls. In this we also included Sheriff Slaughter. This letter was in regard to ATFs new ruling on stability stocks (See link here). As concerned citizens we have not received any response from our representatives on the concerns listed in these letters. This is especially concerning as we have recently heard about ATF and IRS involvement at  Highwood Creek Outfitters (KMON Facebook post), without much additional information.

We would like more attention brought to this issue, and the fact that local representatives only have something to say when a newsworthy event happens, instead of addressing constituents’ concerns when vocalized. Would you be able to include this letter as a “Letter to the Editor”?

Please reach out if you have any questions.


Tony Rosales, PhD
Medical Director, 21GRAMS
Chair, Cascade County Libertarian Party
(406) 217 1905

Judge Denies Rep. Zooey Zephyr And ACLU Request

Breaking news from Montana Talks and Aaron Flint.

In the order by District Judge Mike Menahan, the judge shot down several claims made by Zephyr and the ACLU:

Plaintiffs have asked this Court to issue injunctions prohibiting Defendants from enforcing their censure of Rep. Zephyr and from refusing to recognize her on the House floor. Based on the relief requested, the Court finds Plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits and therefore cannot satisfy the first requirement. Plaintiffs’ requested relief would require this Court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds this Court’s authority. Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief which far outpaces the facts at issue here.

Read the whole story here:

Calling On Local Legislators: Walk Your ‘Conservative’ Talk

Cascade County Republicans won every single race on the ballot in the 2022 election. It was a jaw-dropping result given that Cascade County and Great Falls were once considered to be a Blue stronghold, sending a majority of Democrats every cycle to Helena.

Those days are long gone now I suspect, for two main reasons:

  1. The Cascade County Democratic Central Committee and most of the candidates that they have put forward and supported in recent elections are so far to the extreme left side of the political spectrum that they’ve fallen completely out of touch with the local mainstream.
  2. Local Republican candidates have run their campaigns on a mostly common sense conservative set of principles that resonates more soundly with local voters.

A big part of that conservative set of principles includes a healthy mistrust of top-down governance – at all levels.

I’m calling on our Great Falls/Cascade County state legislative delegation to live by and legislate according to their proclaimed conservative values by rejecting the efforts in this legislative session to increase state control of local governing bodies.

SB 245

One example of such efforts is SB 245, a bill designed to impose a one-size-fits-all, state mandated zoning template on all Montana cities and towns.

SB 245 would require Great Falls, and all other Montana communities with populations over 7,000, to allow mixed-use and other kinds of development whether or not that development is determined by a local community or neighborhood to be a good fit for that local community or neighborhood.

The bill would also prohibit local governing bodies, like your Great Falls City Commission, from adding some development requirements in accordance with a local growth policy, like setbacks, density, and parking etc. after holding local public hearings with the local stakeholders in the neighborhoods most affected.

You can read SB 245 here.

Walk The Talk

I understand the intention of this and some of the other proposed related legislation is to address the housing crisis in our state. I get it.

But what works for Missoula may not work for Great Falls. A zoning regulation that provides solutions for Choteau might actually add problems for Butte or Havre.

The point is – one size does not fit all.

When the federal government seeks to cram regulations down our throats or usurp states rights those who claim to be liberty loving conservatives rightfully raise their voices in protest.

So to my conservative friends in the state legislature: Stay true to your conservative principles, be consistent and allow cities, towns and counties to keep their local decisions LOCAL.

Local EMT Training Available

Montana is very short on EMS personnel and Whiteline Consulting and Training has stepped up to help get EMTs into services!

Whiteline has EMT courses throughout Montana, yes you heard that right – throughout! They have dedicated instructors who travel to bring EMT courses to Montana areas.

Whiteline has a course coming up in Vaughn, MT at the Vaughn Fire Hall starting June 2nd every Thursday and Friday night from 6pm to 9:30pm and every other Saturday 9am to 4pm.

This course is all in person and hands on; the cost of the course is $900 plus the cost of the book, but don’t panic over the course cost because they have a payment plan that is set for each person’s needs! They strive to create educated, strong and compassionate EMTs to bring to all Montana communities far and wide. This is a unique course and the reason I say unique is because this company brings in guest speakers to help further students education into pre-hospital care.

The instructors make sure to go into depth about depression, suicide, ptsd and mental health. Why? Because Montana is in the top 5 for suicide rates…Whiteline is here to bring back compassion and understanding to the EMS world again. If you have any questions or if you are curious you can check out the website and email them at www.whitelinetraining.com.

Whiteline wants everyone to know that past and future EMS students throughout Montana are amazing and some of the bravest out there. Take into consideration they are taking these courses during a pandemic; they are coming to the front lines with no hesitation.

The EMS world is hard and can be dark at times but for them to want to help and care for others is an amazing quality. Becoming an EMT is one of the most rewarding professions.

Being able to help others in the worst times of their life and being that calming, compassionate and trusting person to bring light to their darkness. EMTs aren’t there for the pay or fame; they are there because they want to be. They are there to help, to care, to connect and most of all lighten the darkness that the patient is in. Being able to connect with a stranger and bring a smile or a small chuckle to their face is an amazing feeling.

Being in EMS isn’t always trauma; it’s being someone the patient can trust knowing they have someone that will truly listen to them and believe them, being the shoulder and listening ear when dying sounds better then living. It’s knowing they can call 911 and trust having complete strangers help them. It’s knowing that they will be safe and heard.

Being an EMT isn’t just a job or lifestyle or just training to help….it’s a passion for compassion towards others.

How To Help Victims Of Gibson Flats And Denton Fires

Extreme winds in Northcentral Montana contributed to spreading major fires in the area resulting in the loss of homes and other structures and uprooting the lives families.

Two of the hardest areas are Gibson Flats, south of Great Falls, and Denton, Montana which is located a little over halfway between Great Falls and Lewistown.

Here are a couple of ways you can help in the relief effort.

West Wind/Denton Fire Donations

Monetary donations are now being accepted for the West Wind/ Denton Fire. ALL proceeds will go to support firefighting efforts and local home, business and ranch recovery. If you would like to donate by cash or check, you may leave donations at Stockman Bank or mail to Montana Winter Fair, PO Box 931, Lewistown, MT 59457.

Click here to donate online.

Local help for families displaced by the Gibson Flats fire.

Gibson Flats Fire Donations

A local Facebook page has been set up to coordinate relief efforts for those affected by the Gibson Flats fire.

Click here to visit the page.

The War of Words at the Montana Supreme Court

Editors note: E-City Beat welcomes new contributor, Leslie D. Soule. See her brief bio at the end of her article.

The eyes of the nation are now on the Montana Supreme Court, with the recent email scandal that has taken place. Thus, untangling this Gordian Knot of issues, is the key in understanding the situation – figuring out not just the issue at hand, but the several various issues that are all rolled into one.

Legislative sessions are posted online, for viewing, such as the April 19th, 2021 Legislative session that involved the Special Joint Select Committee on Judicial Accountability and Transparency. In watching this session, it soon became very apparent, that multiple issues were at hand in this case, many of which, involve an interpretation of language, roles, and conflict-of-interest:

  • The relationship between court administrators and the court itself, and impartiality or lack thereof
  • The scope of the subpoenas referenced (subpoenas for court documents relating to polling)
  • The polls to the Supreme Court and District Court judges, and how they relate to the Constitutionality of bills
  • Whether Judge Krueger would have recused himself if he hadn’t been found out
  • And then ultimately which judges are impartial enough now to judge certain challenged legislation that has passed – mainly S.B. 140.

Standing at the heart of the issue, is Senate Bill 140, which would alter the way Judges are appointed, due to a vacancy.

Montana Senate Bill 140 (S.B. 140) is a bill titled “Revise laws relating to the judiciary”, which was passed on March 16th, 2021. This bill repeals the Judicial Nomination Commission, and gives the governor the direct authority to appoint district court judges and Supreme Court justices.

An issue arises because the Supreme Court sent out a poll, asking what judges thought about this upcoming piece of legislation, creating a conflict-of-interest.

Cleanupthecourt.com summarizes the situation from here, stating, “In March a lawsuit was filed after S.B. 140 was signed into law by Gov. Gianforte. Chief Justice McGrath recused himself from the case because he had actively lobbied Gianforte against signing the bill. McGrath chose Judge Krueger as his replacement on the case, despite already knowing that Judge Krueger was ‘adamantly’ opposed to the bill. Judge Krueger recused himself from the case only after his email was revealed to the public.”

Judge Krueger is not the only judge who voiced an opinion via poll, or opposed S.B. 140, but his involvement is noteworthy because of his position, replacing Chief Justice Mike McGrath.

Also at the heart of the scandal, is a series of emails that were deleted at some point, and then recovered.

According to the website Cleanupthecourt.com, where the emails are available for public viewing, “Newly uncovered emails reveal troubling, unethical conduct by members of the Montana judiciary have sent shockwaves across the political landscape.”

The site also instructs to, “Read firsthand how members of the judicial branch improperly attempted to influence the legislative process, coordinate questionable activities with lawyers and lobbyists, ridicule the legislature, engage in unethical and unprofessional behavior, and do it all on the tax-payer dime.”

This certainly sounds salacious, but is it true? Let’s dive in and investigate. The scandal involves the following people:

  • The members of the Montana Supreme Court, as per the 2021-2022 Montana Legislative Guide: Chief Justice Mike McGrath, Justice James A. Rice, Justice James Jeremiah Shea, Justice Ingrid Gustafson, Justice Dirk Sandefur, Justice Laurie McKinnon, and Justice Beth Baker.
  • Their Court Administrator, Beth McLaughlin.
  • Lobbyist Ed Bartlett, who received a poll.
  • Judge Kurt Krueger, who is not a member of the Montana Supreme Court. Rather, he is a District Court 1 judge.
  • The members of the Special Joint Select Committee on Judicial Accountability & Transparency, including: Senator Greg Hertz (Chairman/Presiding Officer), Representative Sue Vinton (Vice Presiding Officer), Senator Tom McGillvray, Senator Diane Sands, Representative Kim Abbott, and Representative Amy Regier
  • Governor Greg Gianforte, of Montana, having signed S.B. 140 into law.

What became increasingly clear, in watching the Legislative session, on the 19th, is that the Montana Supreme Court wants to “have it both ways” when it comes to the role of its court administrators.

When Chief Justice Mike McGrath was questioned about it, he answered that the Court appoints the administrator, who is supposed to be “independent”, but also “serves at the pleasure of the court” as an at-will employee, and is on the Court payroll. Can someone in Beth McLaughlin’s court administrator role, be truly impartial? Or will their need for a paycheck, be always weighing on their mind?

What seems apparent is that the court administrator is caught in this dual-role that the Court wants them to have, kind of like Facebook trying to be both a “platform” and “publisher” of information, at the same time. They want it both ways, which creates confusion and also an inherent conflict of interest that is insidious.

The tone of Beth McLaughlin’s emails to the court, has come under scrutiny, as they are characterized by a tone that only be described as flippant and disrespectful. As this tone was used in emails sent from her Montana government email address, the tone should have been professional, and reflective of the nature of the court itself, as when she uses that email address, she is acting in a professional capacity.

Thus, at the very least, she ought to know better than to use emojis in professional emails to the judges. And yet, she does use emojis, as well as using derisive language, referring to legislation. An example of a few of her emails, regarding H.B. 685, which revises the Judicial Standards Commission, are as follows:

  • March 24, 2021, 8:12 am – This email only states, “Well this is goofy.”
  • March 24, 2021, 12:02pm – “It’s a proposed constitutional amendment so it would need 2/3 of both Houses and to be approved by the voters. I’ve never seen an unconstitutional constitutional amendment but it sure seems to conflict with the Supreme Court’s ultimate authority in statute. It will be a doozy.”

But ultimately, this is a side issue.

It is emails such as this one, sent by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, that are more troubling, and even less professional:

  • March 24, 2021, 4:39pm Subject: RE: fyi LC 3213 – “We should probably get a membership vote on this and ask who can make calls. Probably need the bar to do the same. Of course the problem here is it allows a citizen’s commission to discipline or remove judges. Not clear who appoints them but God forbid they put any judges on it or more than one atty. Then there is the problem that it would be entirely inconsistent with other provisions of the constitution…M”

Here, we see Chief Justice Mike McGrath, in a conflict-of-interest position on this particular piece of legislation, weighing in on it that he does not approve, based on the possibility that the legislation could allow the removal of judges.

There is an undeniable power dynamic at work here, that rewards unethical behavior. This is what the emails reveal. The emails also show a disrespect and disdain for the public and for public servants trying to keep the courts in check. For example, here is another email by Chief Justice Mike McGrath:

  • March 24, 2021, 5:51pm Subject: RE: fyi LC 3213 – “Just noticed the new name will be ‘The Judicial Inquiry Commission’. Think this straight out of the book ‘Where Democracies Go To Die’. M”

The next piece of evidence that must be considered, is the polls that were conducted.

A poll on Cleanupthecourt.com, sent by Beth McLaughlin, shows that it was sent by email, from her Montana government email address. The email instructs judges to “use the voting buttons (accept/reject) on your toolbar”.

Who instructed Beth McLaughlin to send the poll regarding S.B. 140, in the first place? It is clear, from another poll that was conducted and sent the same way, by email, that she sent that poll at the behest of Judge Greg Todd, who chairs the Montana Judges’ Association. Why are these polls being conducted? And how long has the Supreme Court been doing this?

There are some parts of this story that are, as yet, unknown, and more information will undoubtedly be uncovered as time goes on, with this case. But what we can be sure of, is that there are multiple conflicts-of-interest, going on, in regards to the Montana Supreme Court and the District Courts as well.

The sheer scope of this corruption is difficult to conceive of. But conceive of it, we must, if we are to have a hope of preserving Montana’s judicial system.

This is all extremely important because in order to have a fair judicial branch here in Montana, there must be no conflicts of interest, or undue influence on legislation, such as may have come about by the polling of judges and lobbyists, emails discussing legislation that is being considered before it is voted on, and Judges’ Association members influencing court employees.

This is not the last we’ll see of this ongoing case, and it will be interesting to follow the developments of this story.

Great Falls Dem Melissa Smith Agrees ICE And Filibuster Are ‘White Supremacy’

In our continuing series of articles concerning state public officials’ and political candidate social media pages, we’re highlighting Democrat Melissa Smith, who lost to GOP incumbent Fred Anderson in Cascade County’s HD 20 in 2020.

Here, in someone else’s poke at Governor Gianforte, Smith equates a vague reference to a ‘gun’ as an example of a ‘cult of toxic individualism raging’ across the land.

And here is Smith’s take on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service and the use of the Senate filibuster – ‘yes yes yes yes’ they’re examples of ‘white supremacy’.

Never mind that Smith’s own party, the Democrats, used the filibuster in the U.S. Senate over 300 times last year alone. Does that mean that Kamala Harris is a ‘white supremacist’?

Interestingly, Smith is still using the @Melissa4HD20 Twitter handle. We take that as a fairly obvious sign that she intends to be back on the ballot next year.

We also see this as the obvious reason that every single Democrat on the ballot in Great Falls lost last year.

Local Dem Bessette Sports ‘Hail Satan’ Shirt, Vows Return To Legislature In ’23

As we continue our series on the revealing social media posts of local and state candidates/politicians we return to Democrat Barabara Bessette, a former Great Falls Representative incumbent who lost to GOP newcomer Steven Galloway in Cascade County’s HD 24 in 2020.

After we posted our piece earlier in the week about Bessette’s nasty, extremely partisan social media accounts a reader sent us this photo taken from her Facebook page:

After receiving the photo and checking her accounts we discovered that this picture has apparently now been removed. There’s probably a lot of social media scrubbing going on right about now.

The rainbow unicorn Hail Satan shirt is no doubt considered to be ‘cute’ by some.

However, an upside down cross, two pentagrams and a hearty ‘Hail Satan’ is offensive and sacrilegious to a great many people who don’t consider it cute or funny at all.

Since she is confidently assuring us that she’ll be back in the legislature in 2023, we wonder how the voters who live in Great Falls’ HD24 feel about the symbolism of Bessette’s choice of attire here.

Here’s another of Bessette’s Facebook predictions:

It will be interesting to see whether Bessette will wear the ‘Hail Satan’ shirt while knocking on doors in HD24 during the campaign next year.