The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners

What If Taxing Tourists Could Lower Your Property Tax Bill?

May 22, 2023 Missoula County Commissioners Season 3 Episode 9
What If Taxing Tourists Could Lower Your Property Tax Bill?
The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
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The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
What If Taxing Tourists Could Lower Your Property Tax Bill?
May 22, 2023 Season 3 Episode 9
Missoula County Commissioners

Property taxes are defined by multiple sets of rules, calculations and inaccessible words like "mill" and "levy." How much is a mill worth, and what's the limit on how many mills local government can collect? Who determines how much your house is worth? What if there was a way visitors could pay for the services they use when they visit our community that would lower your property taxes at the same time?

In this episode, Commissioner Slotnick breaks down the taxing system, how it relates to the County budget and what to expect when you get your re-appraisal notice from the state this summer. 
 Related links:

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Show Notes Transcript

Property taxes are defined by multiple sets of rules, calculations and inaccessible words like "mill" and "levy." How much is a mill worth, and what's the limit on how many mills local government can collect? Who determines how much your house is worth? What if there was a way visitors could pay for the services they use when they visit our community that would lower your property taxes at the same time?

In this episode, Commissioner Slotnick breaks down the taxing system, how it relates to the County budget and what to expect when you get your re-appraisal notice from the state this summer. 
 Related links:

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!


Dave Strohmaier: [00:00:10] Well, welcome back, everyone, to Tip of the Spear with your Missoula County commissioners. I'm Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. I'm joined today by fellow commissioners Juanita Vero and Josh Slotnick. Okay, it's time for a drum roll today. Josh is our guest. And what are we talking about? The crowd please: property taxes. Thanks, man. We are all acutely aware of the squeeze that many residential property owners feel when they are paying their taxes every year. So just to kick things off and to provide some context for us. Josh, explain a little bit about how local property taxes and who is paying them and the percentage of how those break down between residential and industrial or commercial, how that has changed over the decade? 


Josh Slotnick: [00:01:00] Sure, thanks for asking and thanks for letting me do this. I have gone on a bit of a tour lately, are bopping around our county, talking with anybody who would listen to me about the mechanics of property taxes because they are super important. Yet the language around property taxes is pretty opaque. It doesn't occur anywhere else in the culture, and unless you're kind of in it, the words don't really mean a whole lot and they're not well understood. And yet everybody is affected by these things. To answer your question about the changes over time, I'd love to answer that. And then I kind of want to circle back to that mechanics of property taxes and try and define some of these terms. So big changes over the last 25, 30 years. These changes I'm about to talk about are changes that we would all recognize. If you've lived in Missoula County since the mid 90s to now, which I get is not everybody, but here's kind of how they go. Our economy has really changed a lot. I think it makes good sense to say our tax system should match our economy and it once did. Here's what I mean. If we go back to the mid 90s, you would see that in Missoula County we had a handful of very large footprint industries that paid a lot in property taxes because they occupied so much space and they were so valuable. I'm really talking about our mills that once defined this place. The city of Missoula was once a mill town and the county of Missoula, really known for our timber industry. Simultaneous with that, if we go back to the mid 90s, we also would notice that the value of homes in Missoula was not that high, especially compared to now, and especially compared to nationally. Our home values were low. If you were to move here from somewhere else, you'd be getting a deal by moving here.


Juanita Vero: [00:02:35] Do you know what those home values were in the 90s?


Josh Slotnick: [00:02:38] Well, anecdotally. So in 1997 I bought a three bedroom, one bathroom house a few blocks west of the [Orange Street] Food Farm for $99,000. That house now, I'm sure is over five [hundred thousand dollars]. So at... The big thing that... The big way that this is different is that nationally our home prices then were less than 100% of the average home price right now I last checked it was probably six weeks ago. The median home price of Missoula was 144% of the national home price. So they've gone up a considerable way faster than every other measure of the economy, specifically in Missoula. In fact, estimates are in our reappraisal cycle that we'll get to that House values have gone up 35 plus percent in two years. Our home prices have been on this steady arc. So if we go back to the mid 90s and I don't mean to drift too far, we had major industrial employers that occupied large physical footprints and covered nearly 60% of the property tax burden, leaving 40% to residents and they were paying on houses of relatively low value. Also at that time we had a super modest tourist economy compared to the one we do now. And the reason I bring that up is because tourists use services as well.


Josh Slotnick: [00:03:52] And when they use our services when they're here and we subsidize those costs, tourists don't pay for them not because they're mean-spirited, but because they have no opportunity. There is no way for them to pay directly for the services they use like 911 or good roads or interacting with people who are the products of our public school system. Flash forward to the now those big footprint mills are gone. Instead, we have an economy that's much more diverse than it once was. It's more resilient and I'd say more robust. And I say all that in acknowledgment that real lives were harmed when those industries went away, but they no longer exist. And the property tax burden has shifted from 60 to 40, from industrial to residential flopped the other way with the 60 on the residences. And I'm not being so much inaccurate as I'm being incomplete. There are centrally assessed and there's a whole bunch of other thin tax categories. So we're not I don't want to mention partly because it gets really boring, but also partly because it doesn't change the essence of this story. The essence of the story here is the property tax burden has shifted onto the backs of residents.


Josh Slotnick: [00:04:52] That's homeowners and renters. That's where our property tax burden is right now. Home values are super high and our property taxes reflect that. And we are providing services to tourists, to a tourist population that didn't exist in 1995. In 2022, we saw 3.5 million tourists in Missoula County. We have 120,000 residents. So just those two numbers should be kind of jaw-dropping when next to each other. And the average length of stay was six and one half days. So those folks are actually using services. They're not just passing through. So our whole property tax system has remained the same. You pay a tax based on the value of your house or a value of the property you own in your business, but the burden has shifted onto residents. That's the big change, and that's where I feel like our property tax system no longer reflects our economy. If our economy is leans heavily on the fact that we have 3.5 million tourists. Leans heavily on the fact that we have a lot of people that live here, earn really good money but don't work here. That's our new reality. And we're working off a tax system that's based on a 1990s reality.


Juanita Vero: [00:05:58] So then why can't the county just make those changes too? Great question. What kinds of property and transactions are taxed? Like, why can't we just do that?


Josh Slotnick: [00:06:05] Thanks so much and thanks for living through such long-winded answers. The tax system is a set of rules. Imagine it in sort of we think of game theory where you've got a set of rules and a... Basically a large box that's drawn, and then we get to move within that. I'm not saying game theory with a winner or loser, but there's a set of rules and then we play. We get to choose the actions we make when we make our plays. But the rules in this case are defined entirely by the state. So people may reasonably ask, Well, why don't we just tax tourists? That's not allowed by the rules. Why don't we have an income tax? That would be awesome. That would be totally progressive. The person living in a high-end condo in Missoula and earning 4 or $500,000 on the coast, they would actually pay what they can pay for services. It would be totally progressive instead of regressive. But we can't do that again. The rules are what they are and they're defined by the state. We don't get to decide on the tax categories. All we get is property taxes, the values of the property that's also set by the state. Another real key piece here in terms of our ability to tax is also set by the state. And I'll get to that in a minute. That's around mills and number of mills, but it's a teaser there.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:07:16] Oh boy. If folks can't see me, I am on I am on the edge of my seat. Wake up. I am about to fall off my chair. I'm so on the edge of my seat. So but all of this said, even though we have been dealt a hand that by the state legislature that we cannot do a whole lot about, we still have tried to do some things or present to the voters here in Missoula County some options that would diversify our revenue, such as maybe...


Josh Slotnick: [00:07:43] The gas tax.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:07:43] The gas tax.


Josh Slotnick: [00:07:44] That's... Thank you for bringing that up. If I understand my local history right. I think it was in 2017, folks from Missoula County went to the state and said we would like a larger share of the state's gas tax. The state extracts money from everyone in Montana, whether you're a tourist or a local who buys gas on a pennies per gallon basis, that money is aggregated and then sent out across the state. And it's done in a very kind of just way in that money is taken in everywhere and then it's sent to where that money is needed the most. So Missoula has a really strong tax base. If you were to look to maybe a less populated central or eastern Montana County, they may have miles and miles of roads, but not very many people to help pay for the maintenance of those roads. A whole bunch of the gas tax generated in Missoula County and Gallatin County is sent off to some of these more or less populated places. 2017 folks who represented Missoula County went to the state and said, we want to keep some of that money because we get hit with tourists and mass and we do not have enough money to take care of our roads. Let us keep more of our gas tax. And the state said, no, no, no. You know, you guys out there, you have the opportunity. It's an option. It's within the rules to have a local gas tax where everyone who's buying gas in your county gets to pay for those roads. So this is an opportunity where tourists could pay.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:00] And that opportunity had been available since the 70s.


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:03] And no one had taken advantage of it. Right. You guys said in 2020, let's do this and let's do this means we bring it to the voters. This is a highly democratic process. It's not just the three of us. The voters actually get to decide. It was in the heat of COVID and they decided for the gas tax. And we had a two cent gas tax for less than a year. During that time, the legislature met in 2021 and decided, you know, we we we don't like that idea anymore. We want to take away your gas tax. So that was within the rules. But then the folks who set the rules changed the rules.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:09:33] Yeah, that is a small way in which we actually had within grasp and we were grasping it the opportunity to to diversify our revenue and recognizing the limitations of revenue generation. And that's no longer an option.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:49] Yeah. So what are some other options we had?


Josh Slotnick: [00:09:52] The other realistic options for us are not within the rules right now. We have to get the rules changed. And I spent a bunch of time last year attempting to do this by working with folks in other counties who face a similar situation. And that similar situation is a very high level of tourism, and that's meaningful, like I said. But. Because locals are subsidizing services for tourists. Is there a way we could charge tourists a fee for some of the services they use to help bring down the property taxes for locals? And in my tour around and talking to people, what I heard from electeds was that they would be open to such a thing if all the money generated really went to property tax reduction. What I heard from folks in the majority party in the state was new revenue for government is off the table. It's not... No way will that be discussed. But if you're talking about a way to offset property taxes, they're open to that. So that would mean if we were to generate $1 million by charging tourists a fee for driving on our roads, that money has to go directly to property tax relief. They'd be open to that. They would also be open to this if we shared the wealth and I said, What do you mean share the wealth? And the response to that is, well, there's a lot of counties out there that don't have the benefits or the burdens of tourism.


Josh Slotnick: [00:11:05] We should be sharing some of that money. I think this is a political reality. If something like this was to happen and we expected support from other counties who don't have tourists, we need to send them some money. So the proposal we came up with was we'd send 10% of this money back to the state and then the state would redistribute that in whatever way they saw fit out to other counties. The last couple pieces of this one, the fees on things that tourists use really, really have to be focused on tourists. We're not talking about a sales tax. So when you go buy some skis, you pay extra. It's not that this is focused on tourists, so whatever we decide should be charged. It's what's an example towards more tourist rental cars, accommodations, guide fees, restaurants and bars. And I get I can hear people yelling right now. Yeah, we all use restaurants and bars, too. But if the money that came from charging tourists or charging all of us for using those things I just mentioned went back to a reduction on your property taxes. You may see the amount of money you spend on restaurants and bars go up 4% during the year, but you might see a 10% or 20% reduction on your taxes would be really meaningful.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:12:06] So it seems like while that would absolutely help or still saddled with this scenario where we've had a shift from large footprint industrial property taxpayers to less intensive footprint, high tech businesses, businesses that might generate a lot of payroll, and all of those people live in the community and use our services, but also don't contribute back in the same way via taxation to help local government.


Josh Slotnick: [00:12:37] Now, you're describing it correctly, and I'm going to go back to my refrain. Our tax system does not reflect our economy. It also doesn't reflect the home economy of lots of people because of the dramatic rise in home values over the last three years, two years, 20 years, people have become house rich and I would say cash poor, but cash normal and home rich. And they live here. This is where they're rooted. It's not like they're going to sell their house. And if you're there to move to another place in Missoula, they're going to pay big money for it. What this means is the property taxes are going to eat into their income in a way that they haven't before. Because it's not just the home values, it's the burden of taxation shifting onto homeowners. So if we take the general amount of revenue to run government, it's leaning more heavily on homeowners than it ever has before. And those homeowners are paying for services for people who don't pay for them. They're subsidizing services for tourists.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:13:34] Well, when it relates to residential property, there is no necessary connection between the value or appraised value of your property and your ability to pay.


Josh Slotnick: [00:13:44] Exactly. The appraised value of your property is a proxy for your ability to contribute to the greater good, and it is not accurate.


Juanita Vero: [00:13:51] And who's responsible for that appraised value?


Josh Slotnick: [00:13:53] Great, great question. The state goes through what they call a reappraisal cycle where every two years they determine a value for your home. They do that with an algorithm. It's called C a m A, and I can't remember what it stands for, but this is based on square footage of your house and how much houses have sold for in the recent past. And it's often inaccurate because it's not done by a person who's looking at comps and doing a deep dive appraisal. So I think this happened to you, Dave. Didn't the State say that you had a feature of your house? I'm afraid it was a finished basement or a third story or something that you didn't actually have.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:14:27] That is true. And I don't remember anyone from the State Department of Revenue ever setting foot in my house to know one way or the other.


Josh Slotnick: [00:14:34] They did not. They did not. And they do have, if I understand it right, a pretty fair appeal system. And you can appeal. And if you could say, look, you said I have a finished basement, I don't actually have a finished basement, then the value will go back to normal.


Juanita Vero: [00:14:47] And was it an onerous process for you, Dave, to get that fixed?


Dave Strohmaier: [00:14:50] It was not. Once I realized that there was a process that I could avail myself of, and a lot of folks probably are not aware that that yeah, there are some steps you need to go through, but they may not be aware that that is the case.


Josh Slotnick: [00:15:03] Even so, I love to focus on two pieces of the mechanics of the property tax system because these words are tossed. Sit around a lot. And if this was if I was in front of people, I could rant and rave and I'm sure keep them awake. We'll see how it goes here. This is a mill and levying mills. And these are words we hear in the tax world all the time. And I think it's important to kind of break them down and describe what they mean. And again, I'm not going to be inaccurate, such as I'm going to be intentionally incomplete because the weeds are too much. 


Dave Strohmaier: [00:15:33] And this mill is different than the large footprint industries that used to exist in Missoula.


Josh Slotnick: [00:15:39] Those made cardboard and lumber and other paper products.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:15:41] Yeah, just to be clear.


Josh Slotnick: [00:15:42] Good, Good point. So I brought the reappraisal cycle. So every two years the state appraises through their algorithm all of the real estate in the entire county. The whole county gets appraised, take that giant number and divide it by 1000. That's one mill, 1/1000th of all the real estate value in the county. That equals one mill. A mill is a unit of taxation, not so much a unit of real estate. It's a unit of taxation. And as a unit of measure, it's unusual in that it changes. So I can say, how many miles is it to Butte? We can come up with an actual number, how many feet in a mile? We could come up with an actual number. It's the same every time the value of a mill changes. Okay, here's a pop quiz. There's three people in the room with me as I realize I'm monologuing. Why does the value of a mill change yet? A mile is the same every time. Given what I've told you, why does the value of a mill change?


Juanita Vero: [00:16:35] Because we're talking about values and we're talking...


Josh Slotnick: [00:16:37] Yeah, it's you're getting there, but give me the...


Juanita Vero: [00:16:39] It's dynamic and it's changing and people and the value of property changes.


Josh Slotnick: [00:16:44] That's the answer. The state reappraises all the property every two years and the value of that property goes up. So 1/1000th of a new number is a new number, right?


Juanita Vero: [00:16:54] Part of that calculation is what people are going to pay for it. And that's what's kind of tricky.


Josh Slotnick: [00:16:58] Yeah, and there's a little bit gray there because the state says, Oh, we're not looking at market value, but they kind of are. But that's part of the answer. Part of the answer to why does a mill value change is because the value of real estate changes. The other piece of the answer is that new buildings were built. So if a mill is equivalent to 1/1000 of all the real estate in the county and two years ago we had this much real estate and now we have this much. Plus, because new buildings were built, that greater number that's now divided by 1000, that's a bigger number. So the value of a mill in 2023 is going to be really high compared to the value of a mill in 2022, especially high compared to a value in 2021, because the state's on this two year real estate appraisal cycle. So 2021, they look, they said it, everybody's house is worth X 20, 23. They're imagining that X has gone up by 35, 37%. And then you add it means yeah, and then we add in the newly taxable, which I guess is part of that. It means it's going to look like you're going to pay a whole lot more in taxes. And that is not entirely accurate because it's only part of the equation. So everybody's going to get a notice in June saying we the state, think your house is worth this much money. That mill value is going to be X, And if this county.


Juanita Vero: [00:18:13] Based on last year's...


Josh Slotnick: [00:18:15] Based on last year's and if the county levies the same amount of mills as they did last year, your tax value is going to be over here and it's really high. The two pieces to that, the value of a mill and the number of mills we get to extract from everyone who lives in Missoula County. Okay. So in terms of how much taxes we are all going to pay, we've got the value of a mill times the number of mills. So how many mills can the county levy? That too is also set by the state. There are rules around this. Basically, the state has said you all and Missoula County can levy. You can use the same amount of mills as you did last year, plus an amount of mills that will generate an equivalent in dollars to half the three year average of inflation. Now, I mentioned newly taxable property. That's not part of this that's outside of this because we have to tax new buildings, new residents, so that they can cover the cost of their services to the degree that they can. So we're in a really unusual situation. In 2023, the value of a mill is going to go up. It's not officially out yet. It won't be out until August. But all predictions say that the value of a mill has gone up so much that if we were to levy the same amount of mills as we did last time, we would go beyond that half the three year average of inflation increase. That's called the mill cap. If we use the same amount of mills as we did last time, we would go over the mill cap. So we can't do that. We're actually the first time that I've known about this. We're going to levy fewer mills than we did last year.


Juanita Vero: [00:19:48] Again, because the value of the mills are greater.


Josh Slotnick: [00:19:51] Perfect! Exactly. The value of a mill has gone up so much because it's these two things, the value of a mill times the number of mills. Well, the value of a mill because of the real estate market has soared. So we're going to levy fewer mills. Now, this notice that people are going to get in June is quite alarming because that notice does not take. Into account the mill cap. It just says your house is worth this much. And if the county and the city and the fire district and all the other taxing jurisdictions, the school being a big one, levy the same amount of mills as they did last time, you're going to pay this very large number in taxes. That equation does not take into account the mill cap. We could not levy the same number of mills as we did last year because that would cross the mill cap. That would be illegal. The state would come in, sanction us in some way because that mill value is worth so much more than it used to be. Now the city is under similar constrictions. The school district, which is the other very major player in this, they function on an entirely different model that I'm not going to talk about right now.


Josh Slotnick: [00:20:50] So for them, mills don't matter so much as number of kids in school and how much the state says you get to charge for having a kid in school. So we're in a really unusual situation. That number you see on a notice in June is not accurate, and it should be scary, but it's not going to happen. So somebody may say, well, why are you focused on number of mills and mills and how much money you generate? Shouldn't you be looking at how much money you actually need? Are you there in Missoula County? Absolutely, yes. This is just a discussion on how the property tax system works. What I'm alluding to here is our budget. So we go through a budgeting process and we decide how we want to spend the money we have access to. And that budgeting process is really an exercise in values. I don't mean mill values, but our moral, ethical values. What do we value? What do we consider important? That's what we're going to continue.


Juanita Vero: [00:21:41] And not the moral, ethical values of the three commissioners, but the ethical values of the county.


Josh Slotnick: [00:21:46] Of the county. Is public safety important? Absolutely. Are having good roads important? Absolutely. Do we have elections that are fair and free and done with tons of integrity? Yes, absolutely. Do we want to make sure anybody involved in the permitting process gets treated well, that the public sense of care for their environment and neighborhoods are maintained and that people don't have to waste valuable time while moving through that system? Absolutely. Those are things that we will fund. So we go through a budgeting process where we look at all of our departments and consider how much is it going to cost to do what we did last year? What changes do we want to make to get it to these services are delivered in a more efficient way. So we go through our budgeting process. We ask our 30 different departments, what's it going to take for you all to deliver services in the same way that you did last year? And they'll give us a number, and then they'll also say, Yeah, but what we really need is new software. We need another grants administrator, we need a planner three, we need six more deputies. Whatever it is they're going to say, this is what we need to make sure we continue to do an excellent job. And then the three of us and our budget team have to evaluate those new requests.


Josh Slotnick: [00:22:48] So we have what we paid for last year, and then they have new requests and we have to evaluate all that and decide what we're going to spend money on knowing that we have a mill cap, not thinking specifically about the mill cap, but thinking about what can people afford to live with in terms of tax increases. Then we we make a budget. So the mill cap is very, very real. If we were to levy the same amount of mills, that would be beyond the mill cap. It's not going to happen. What we're going to look at is what do what do our departments need to be efficient and fair and deliver great services? And then what do we feel like we can all stomach in terms of paying for those things? And that's going to be below the mill cap. I do want to say one thing about that mill cap just because I think it's interesting, the newly taxable property that doesn't count with the mill cap, if we didn't have considerable new growth every year, each year, we would have to go backwards because remember that mill cap is half the three year average of inflation. We are in a grow or die situation in terms of delivering services.


Juanita Vero: [00:23:48] And you often remind us that tires on vehicles, right?


Josh Slotnick: [00:23:52] That's my that's my old joke. And I got all the tired joke, but I'll do it again. Can we go.


Juanita Vero: [00:23:56] Higher? Did you guys get that?


Josh Slotnick: [00:23:58] Yeah, that's good. That's good. It's where the rubber meets the road. So could we go into Les Schwab and be like, Yeah, we want three sets of tires a year for 60 sheriff's rigs and we'd like to buy them at half the three year average of inflation. We would not be able to buy gear. We can't function at half the rate of inflation. The only way we don't go backwards is because of new growth. And to add to the crazy complexity of this, when we see new growth, let's say specifically a new house, the cost of bringing services to that new house is not born 100% by the folks in that house. The property taxes they pay do not entirely cover the costs of bringing services to that house. The Delta, the difference between what they pay and the actual cost of services is made up by everybody. So at one and the same time, we are grow or die and growth cost taxpayers money. That is the craziness of this system, of this game of which we did not write the rules. And I believe those rules need to change because grow or die isn't good. And also growth costs everybody money. These two things don't fit together and they are fundamental to how this system works.


Juanita Vero: [00:25:05] Mic drop. 


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:07] Did I just lose you? I totally...


Juanita Vero: [00:25:08] No, that, I mean...So, okay, so then what do we do with that?


Josh Slotnick: [00:25:13] So I feel like the system needs to be reconstructed and if I got to have a say in it, I would use a refrain that our legislature and it sounds like I'm vilifying the legislature and I totally don't mean to do that. The legislature often says one size does not fit all. They shake their fist at DC and say, just because that solution, on whatever issue we're talking about, works in Massachusetts, it's not going to work in Montana because Montana is not Massachusetts. And they're totally correct when they say that. And I believe we are correct in saying the same solution for taxation. That's right. For Fallon County, Broadwater County, Meagher County. It's not right for Missoula County. These counties have very different economies and our tax system should match our economy. We're an economy that is growing rapidly in rates of in-migration are super high and we get crushed with tourists. Our tax system should reflect that. We need ways to have in-migration and new development cover its own costs. So that growth equals higher property taxes for everybody else. That is not the case. We also need a way for tourists to pay for the services they use so it's not on the backs of locals. I think those would be two great leaps forward and I don't think that locals should be paying sales tax on things that everybody needs. We're already paying for services for our property taxes, so please don't see this as you're just trying to sneak in a sales tax. That's not.


Juanita Vero: [00:26:34] And when you chat with legislators about trying to create a more dynamic or equitable system, what were some of the comments you're hearing? Because, I mean, they struggle with this, too. I mean, it's not like they're not thinking about this.


Josh Slotnick: [00:26:48] And so you're totally right on that one. And there's a couple pieces to this one. People feel like you're just leaning into a sales tax. That's the third rail. You can't touch that in Montana politics. Never, never. It can't ever happen. The other piece that I hear is, well, property taxes are super high and they're super high because local governments are spending is out of control. And what we really need to do to solve this high property tax problem is curtail spending. And I think at the legislature this session that was a hot topic of conversation and legislators have heard from their constituents on PAN a lot in property taxes. That needs to change. The legislators who do not sit in the same types of positions that you and Dave and I do, where we have to actually use property taxes to cover the costs of services. These legislators aren't focused on the same situation we are. They're not focused on providing services. They just hear that taxes are high, we'll lower them. Well, obviously you're spending too much money. And what we don't get from that are real specifics. So I'm going to fall back again onto budgeting, which you guys brought up.


Josh Slotnick: [00:27:48] This is if a person who hears this says they're just spending too much money, then please get active in our budget process. Our whole budget process is open, transparent, multiple public meetings. And you can look up your property taxes right now in Missoula County Property Information System. Type in your address or your last name. You'll get a little box. You can click on a smaller box that says Taxes. Underneath that, click on View Pie charts and you can see where all your tax money went to and you can look at it and be like, All right, I spent nine bucks on the fairgrounds. Did I get $9 worth of value? And you can come to our budget process and say, I think I should be paying less than $9 for the fairgrounds. I didn't even go. I didn't even care about it. That thing charges money. They should make money. I shouldn't be paying for that. Or you could say the same thing about how much money you spent on public safety or roads or whatever. Just saying you're spending too much money is not helpful. What we need is specifics and solutions. If you don't like what we're doing.


Juanita Vero: [00:28:44] But before we end, we got to wrap this up. I'm sorry, folks have questions about their appraisal. We kind of touched on this with Dave. Yeah. How how do they do this?


Josh Slotnick: [00:28:52] The Department of Revenue. If you go to the Department of Revenue website, this question of appealing my appraisal is super common. And from what I've heard from friends who've been involved, there was not a bad process. I went through a similar process on property we own and it was resolved pretty quickly and I feel like they did a good job. These notices referencing around the value of your house and what you can expect to pay in taxes if the county and the other jurisdictions levied the same amount of mills as they did last time. That will be coming in June. And please do not take that as gospel. The state is following statute by sending out this chunk of information. They're not being mean or bad, but what they're sending out is not an absolute eventuality. In fact, we couldn't breach the mill cap, as that note would suggest. So you might want to know, well, when am I going to know when I'm paying in taxes? Well, if you live in the city, you have to pay keen attention to the city's budget process and then the county's budget process. And then what happens in the school district. And if you're involved in a rural fire or some of the other special districts, pay attention to all of that, but you won't really, really know until you get your tax bill in November. In November, however, all of those jurisdictions I mentioned should be able to provide some type of estimate at the end of their budget process. You all can expect from us an increase of roughly. Blank percent. But Thatrillionoughly blank percent is not the same for everyone in the city, nor is it the same for everyone in the county, because there are all these little pieces. I said I didn't want to get in the weeds. Things like rural special improvement districts or special improvement districts or special districts that not so not everybody's tax increase is going to be the same. But you can ask and be part of these budgeting processes, which is the biggest deal. And then you'll know for sure in November.


Juanita Vero: [00:30:36] And for the county's budget process, we'll know that in September. Is that right?


Josh Slotnick: [00:30:40] We finalize in September.


Juanita Vero: [00:30:43] So after you get this notice, then you can get more information on Missoula County Voice. This is a great way to track this and follow it, and then we'll have complete numbers by mid-September.


Josh Slotnick: [00:30:53] And what will have on voice, if I understand it right, is basically a guide to how to get involved in our budgeting process, because that's where we talk about how much money is going to be spent and that's going to equal taxes.


Juanita Vero: [00:31:05] Nice. Okay. So before we close, this is my favorite part of these things. Share with us a nugget of wisdom podcast book phrase you've come across recently.


Josh Slotnick: [00:31:16] Yeah, so my favorite podcast of late has been the Prof. G podcast with Scott Galloway. And I have to say he often opens with really stupid jokes. And I feel like this is because...


Juanita Vero: [00:31:28] You're a dad, you're a grandpa.


Josh Slotnick: [00:31:30] Sometimes they're even... I just can't... I'm like, Dude, why? And then he says really smart things and it's mostly around business and tech, but there's a lot around culture and the relationship between demographics and wealth, and I get a lot out of it almost every time. He also does one called Pivot with Kara swisher I really like and I just want to mention one idea that's stuck in my head that I got from him recently. And this is around pollutions and emissions and that we have this huge economy around energy. And obviously carbon is emission and there's consequences from that. He talked about the information economy, this churning engine of social media and what the emissions are from an economy based on social media. And it is these emissions are all the anxiety and doubt and loneliness and isolation that comes from people being chained to social media and not being out in the regular world interacting with people. And I think it's worthwhile. 


Juanita Vero: [00:32:27] That strikes a chord, that's really beautiful.


Josh Slotnick: [00:32:29] Considering that there's this there's this economy, this economy has a set of emissions, as all economies do. But these emissions are really emotional and there is an antidote, as hard as it is to reduce carbon. You can old cliche, now turn off your phone. It's not so much turning off your phone, it's leave your house and go interact with other live human beings. That's the answer to this in terms of alienation and loneliness, etcetera. So obviously flaming extrovert right here for me, what is a necessary level of interaction? I'm just going to imagine Ron next to me as an introvert, maybe for Ron, Ron, Ron only needs he only needs like twice a week for ten minutes and he's good. He's not feeling lonely where I might need four hours. Whatever it is, it's different for everybody. There's no exact prescription. He did say one other thing on this. I like that pre computer in your phone and your pocket. Young people might get bored. They're sitting at home. They got bored. That boredom would force them to go to a bar, to go to a park, to go to a coffee shop, force them into having an unplanned, organic interaction with somebody which answers a need we all have in terms of addressing loneliness. And now you're never nobody's ever bored. You can lose yourself on on any number of apps until tomorrow if you wanted to. So I know that was my favorite idea of recent times.


Juanita Vero: [00:33:45] Oh, that's really great.


Josh Slotnick: [00:33:46] And wade through Scott Galloway's stupid sophomoric jokes and get to the meat. It's worth it.


Juanita Vero: [00:33:51] Thanks for taking the time to listen, folks, and we'll catch you next week.


Josh Slotnick: [00:33:56] Thank you. Thanks for listening to the Tip of the Spear podcast. If you enjoy these conversations, it would mean a lot if you would rate and review the show on whichever podcast app you like. And if you know a friend who would like to keep up with what's happening in local government, be sure to recommend this podcast to them. The Tip of the Spear podcast is made possible with support from MCAT, better known as Missoula Community Access Television and our staff in the Missoula County Communications Division. If you have a question or topic you'd like us to address on a future episode, email it to And to find other ways to stay up to date with what's happening at Missoula County, go to and thanks for listening.