House Bill 114 will crush the dreams of Montana public schools

First, I hate politics. I’m a former sports reporter/editor turned radio play-by-play hack, thus I prefer the certainty of a contest played out mano-a-mano instead of having politicians only voting for ones party be the end result of a conflict.  House Bill 114, introduced by Mike Miller (R) of Helmville, is exactly what I despise about politics.

HB114 was drafted for one sole purpose: to stick it to Anaconda. In short, the Bullock administration and his Montana Department of Revenue feel School District 10 is spending TIFID money captured from the Dave Gates Generation Station (NorthWestern Energy) in Mill Creek illegally.

If it’s illegal, then by all means put a stop to it. However, it appears it may not be illegal after all – even when terms like “Double Taxation” get thrown around as a scare tactic to Deer Lodge County residents. If what SD10 was doing with their cut of TIFID funds was illegal, why is the DOR so adamant on changing the laws set forth in HB114? I’ll tell you why, because they hate the way Anaconda has planned to spend their money. Period.

The DOR vehemently disagrees with Anaconda using TIFID money to renovate Mitchell Stadium – the current home of the Copperheads’ football and track and field teams. So much so they took SD10 to court in October of 2012 only to have Judge Ed McLean rule the DOR “lacked legal standing” to bring the case forward as it had not been harmed by the alleged misuse of funds.

When then DOR deputy director Alan Puera said under oath in 2012 “The TIFID is intended to build infrastructure for an industrial district, not to build football stadiums for the school district off budget,” and when the now Montana Budget Director Dan Villa told me in July of 2012, “My tax money will never go to building a football stadium,” I had a feeling what was in store for Anaconda. Since they couldn’t legally prove impropriety, they would resort to the next best situation – change the law.

Now, SD10 must hurdle Montana giants NorthWestern Energy’s “double taxation” claims and the DOR with HB114 if they want to use money the Office of Public Instruction already deemed “legal and entitled use” of TIFID funds.

And according to an April 3, 2014 document published on the DOR Web site, 45 other TIFs – categorized by either Industrial or Urban Renewal – list some sort of revenue received by local schools within their respective districts. They aren’t just taking this fight to Anaconda, this bill will have significant repercussions to public schools statewide.

Mitchell Stadium, along with many other buildings in Anaconda, is in desperate need of repairs. And no matter what people think, it IS a school building. The proposed construction was to be about $5 million, a drop in the bucket in my opinion to return the grandeur and glory to a staple of our community that has deteriorated over time. However, some opinions state the lack of use of the facility doesn’t equate to that sum of money. Tell that to Butte High fans about Naranche Stadium.

Yes, Naranche was revitalized with TIFID funds just in time to play host to the Bulldogs – the 2012 Class AA State Championship football team. Being in that facility on Friday night, Nov. 16, for the state championship did it for me. What an atmosphere!

Tell Butte High or its fans a football stadium isn’t worth the money. Some places cannot be measured by solely using a price tag. (Here’s a story I did about Naranche Stadium in 2012)

When asking Rep. Miller why he was introducing HB114 via Twitter, his response was, “Follow the law!” and “My understanding is that there are a couple districts that do not do it the way the rest of the districts do.”

And what I found most alarming was Rep. Miller doesn’t even specifically know why he’s introducing HB114. I would think if you want change – a change that alters the way the law reads and is adhered to – you must feel pretty strongly against the way it’s been done in the past.

So why is Rep. Miller even introducing HB114? I’ll tell you why, someone told him to. This year he’s sponsoring Bills for two separate hunting measures, a revised tax law related to pollution control and a revision to the TIFID laws for Montana schools. Some wide range, I’d say.

If as a representative you want to remove the stigma of dirty politics, you may want to at least be schooled on the reasons you are asking for TIFID reform for Montana school districts.

HB114 would likely be a death sentence for Anaconda schools, and it looks as though a representative with an ulterior agenda with some friends in high, or low as it were, places may be playing the executioner.

4 thoughts on “House Bill 114 will crush the dreams of Montana public schools

  1. This article, (nicely written), reminded me of the same type of response to the monetary needs of Anaconda-Deer Lodge residents in their business with Arco, the county government and the EPA. The Opportunity Citizens Protection Association (OCPA)ultimately found the same type of hidden financial agendas and betrayal by the folks we thought were elected to help us. Dan Villa pulled a fast one with the OCPA group and once he talked us into supporting his and Ms. Daniel’s agenda went missing..with a smile on his face and a plan to spend monies allotted to the folks in Opportunity.
    I would need to do more research on this particular matter but knowing how we were deceived by our government, it would not surprise me a bit that they would try something underhanded.
    The answer to this and many issues we face in government today is to stay informed and find your voice to argue. Vote, and lend support to folks like Blake that keep us informed. Thank you Blake.

  2. Blake, you say that passage of HB 114 will mean the death of Anaconda’s schools. This just isn’t true. It may be the death of the boondoggle that is the $5 million Mitchell stadium upgrade, but that is all.

    First of all, HB 114 doesn’t even change the substance of existing law; it just clarifies it and removes all doubt that school districts have to operate in a way that makes them accountable for how they spend our tax dollars. It prevents them from creating a ‘slush fund’, and squirreling away tens of thousands of dollars without counting that money as part of the regular levy. Whether you want to admit it or not, but for this practice, taxpayers in ADLC would be paying way less in taxes for our schools. In effect, the schools are claiming a loophole from the law that regulates how much they can tax us without a vote on a bond issue. That is why NW Energy is suing us: they want to pay less taxes too…

    To me, Blake, you don’t seem to get that the real question is it right to keep our taxes so high to pay for a $5 million upgrade on Mitchell Stadium, without a vote on a bond issue?

    Simply put, if the Anaconda School Board wants to spend $5 million of our tax dollars on a stadium renovation, they need to put a bond issue on our ballots and let us vote on it. We voted and approved the Lincoln School multi-purpose room, extra money for Head Start, the library elevator, funds for a new jail, and even for a new fire truck. If the voters think a big proposed project like this is worthy, they will approve it. If not, it won’t happen. That is how the system should work.

    Butte’s Naranche stadium is actually an interesting comparison. First of all, Naranche was renovated mostly with non-TIFID money(90%). The TIFID only funded 10% ($250,000). Naranche was closed for 27 years during renovation. Naranche is actually physically located in Butte’s TIFID, so it is justifiable to use some TIFID money there (because it improves the infrastructure in the district, a legal requirement). Finally, the Naranche renovation only cost ½ of what Mitchell will cost, and that is for Butte, which has four times the population, and is a AA school rather than a B school. How many class B schools spend $5 million on stadium upgrades? (Answer: none.)

    Frankly, it strikes me as pure insanity for Anaconda tax payers to spend so much money for a stadium that we use for less than 8 times a year (between football and track). If we are going to do a renovation, it need to be about $500,000, not $5 million. For Five million dollars, we could build a community recreation center with an indoor pool, and many other amenities, that would get heavily used 365 days a year. Look at the one in Deer Lodge, for example. We could build a whole new school building, We could hire more top rate teachers.

    Also, don’t forget that IF the school district handled taxes the way that NW Energy and the state say we should, that taxes would have dropped 15% when the Gates Power Plant came on line. Instead, we pay the same (mine actually keep going up), and the power plant taxes get stashed aside for the Board’s pet projects (like a Mitchell Stadium renovation…).

    The Board made a choice, and made it without ever making it clear to the public that they could either reduce taxes 15%, or set money aside for Mitchell Stadium. Let’s put that choice on a ballot, and see what the people think. The Board won’t do an election, because they KNOW the way they’re doing it now will get voted down. They are using sneaky tricks to keep the extra tax money, and I’m sick of it. Anaconda will not grow as long as we have the highest property taxes in Montana. This is why most of the new businesses investing here seem to be tax exempt (such as AWARE and CCCS, both of which pay zero property taxes). Business and home owners need tax relief more than we need a pricey stadium upgrade. HB 114 is just fine, thank you.

    • The Mitchell Stadium project was one of a handful of planned upgrades put aside when the INTERCAP loan process went south and then again when the Dept. of Revenue disagreed with the way SD10 was going to spend their captured funds. And this process began before the current issues of restructuring schools came about. When Mr. McKittrick was hired to look at refurbishing a school building in keeping with the historic preservation, he pitched several ideas after collecting data and information gather at PUBLICLY NOTICED MEETINGS. I would estimate at least 10 of these meetings occurred – I know because I was at almost all of them. The “Cadillac” of the bids came to $5 million but there were also options to make it significantly less. And do you know why they proceeded with these plans? Because people like you and the public at large didn’t attend those meetings and disagree with any of it. The community-elected Board Of Trustees then voted to move forward on the project until all hell broke loose.

      What I think is ironic is you can sit here and call out refurbishing one of the most historic buildings in Anaconda – one build using WPA dollars during the depression when families had no work and were desperate – yet you can’t wait to sink money into a community center that will only add more expenses. A swimming pool and multi use center that won’t add jobs is what’s best for the school district? The Mitchell Stadium project wouldn’t have any significant operational costs and it would fix an eyesore and accident waiting to happen. And you want to hire more teachers when the district will probably have to start cutting those positions because of the drop in enrollment.
      And actually, refurbishing Mitchell Stadium would reduce liability of the school to and from practice when their current changing facilities are at the Memorial because there are plans for fully functioning locker rooms and shower facilities.
      In my opinion, I don’t care how much the facility is used. I’m tired of patchwork. Why can’t we have something new? Something to feel proudly about. It’s a school facility that’s in disrepair.
      Anaconda is full of old people who would rather bitch and moan after the fact rather than being part of the solution. Yep, you get a $60-100 break on your taxes and can’t stand the thought of a school project being put in motion where you wouldn’t directly benefit from. That’s why Anaconda will always be the town people love to visit for a weekend about every year or so.

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