- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Just because your home value shoots up doesn’t necessarily mean your property tax bill will also rise significantly this fall.

But it might.

Billings City Council members said they’ve been hearing from their constituents ever since the Montana Department of Revenue began sending out property value statements last week. Some statements — chiefly in the Billings Heights, Lockwood and other neighborhoods — indicate double-digit property value increases, the result of a legislative change that now requires valuation be completed every two years, rather than every six years.

But elected officials and city staff stressed during and after the City Council’s Monday meeting that no decision has been made on levy rates, a decision typically made in September.

The City Council’s Aug. 17 work session will include a presentation on how the new valuation system works, and how many mills might be levied to help pay for the city’s 2015-16 budget.

“We want to stress that the Department of Revenue statement reflects market and taxable value statements and are not an indication of what tax changes will be,” City Administrator Tina Volek told the City Council.

She noted that property tax dollars are divided in this way: School District 2 receives about 40 cents of every dollar, the city receives about 26 cents and Yellowstone County gets about 18 cents. The rest goes to the state and to special taxing districts.

After the meeting, Councilman Denis Pitman, whose represents Heights residents, said many of the dozen or so people who have contacted him “are really concerned about staying in their houses.”

He said the value of the five properties he owns went up about $223,000 following the most recent valuation.

He said residents have been told they have only 30 days to protest their appraisal, which could prove to be tricky timing considering city officials won’t begin to know what mill level they will recommend until near the time of the Aug. 17 work session.

“I’m asking people for patience. Don’t jump off the cliff,” Pitman said. “I know it’s a huge concern for everybody, because these letters have been confusing. People see it as a tax liability, but it’s not.”

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, the City Council paused to honor Tom Binford, who will retire Friday as director of Aviation and Transit after more than 30 years of service to the city.

Mayor Tom Hanel presented Binford a plaque, and the City Council and the audience gave Binford a standing ovation.

Binford began working at the airport on Nov. 5, 1984 and will retire July 31.

“I would tell you I’ll miss City Council meetings,” he said with a smile, “but I will enjoy watching a full Monday Night Football game.”

“He runs the airport very professionally. People enjoy being with him, and that’s always a good sign,” said Councilman Mike Yakawich. “I’ve tried to get his goat a few times, but he is such a professional with a great demeanor. If I had an airport, I’d hire him.”

“He has a lot of passion and a lot of talent for what he does,” said Councilwoman Angela Cimmino, telling Binford “we are forever in your debt, because you leave behind a legacy of pride, and that’s nice to see in your staff, too.”

Binford said he began his aviation career as an airport night custodian while attending college in Laramie, Wyo. “I never envisioned a 36-year career in aviation,” he said. “I have received nothing but support. We’ve all tried to work together to provide a safe operation, one that we can be proud of, one that serves the public well. We have some exciting things ahead of us, and while I’ll miss being part of those things, I am looking ahead to the life ahead of me beginning this Friday.”

During the business portion of their meeting, the City Council approved two requests for zone changes; a special review of the proposed The Divide Restaurant and Bar, 4020 Montana Sapphire Drive; and an expansion of the boundaries of Ward 4 to include recently annexed property in the West End.

At the request of city staff, a public hearing over a proposed variance allowing 15 parking stalls at 2908 Millennium Circle was canceled. Staff determined that the variance was not needed.

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(c)2015 Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)

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