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A year ago, no one expected to see the money from the Montana Tunnels mine's delinquent property taxes, so Jefferson County was pleasantly surprised when Denver-based Goldfield Funding Partners LLC paid $5.1 million in back taxes last fall. Now the county is distributing the multimillion-dollar payment to various agencies that should have been getting the revenue all along.

Goldfield Funding Partners LLC's payment came days before a Dec. 2 deadline on a tax deed, which prevented Jefferson County from seizing the property.

Goldfield's payment covered the delinquent taxes from mid-2009 until 2021. The payout also went toward $2.42 million in interest and penalties accrued during the delinquency. The county distributed these fees to the agencies in Tax District 1F, including the Jefferson City Volunteer Fire Department, Clancy School, Jefferson High School and the North County Library District. The state of Montana and Jefferson County also claimed a portion of the tax payout.

Clancy School

Clancy School received the largest portion of the Montana Tunnels delinquent property tax payout, coming in at $1.22 million. Clancy School District Clerk and Business Manager Jennifer Goehring told The Monitor via email that the district has yet to plan how to use the funding.

Jefferson County

Jefferson County received the second-largest portion of the tax distribution: $1.68 million. The county distributed these funds into its budget for services such as roads, bridges, weeds and planning.

Montana

The state of Montana followed closely behind the county, collecting $947,943 for various state-level education funding including for public universities.

Jefferson High School

Jefferson High School received $470,000. In an April 26 interview, Jefferson High School Superintendent Tim Norbeck said the school had yet to decide what to do with the funds, but he was "glad to see the funds received for the district after many years of delinquency." Norbeck said a potential use is to bring the school's reserves up to 10% of the school's budget, a limit set by state law.

He said the district may use the needs assessment created during the planning process for the $12.5 million facilities bond passed in November 2021 as a guideline for using the money.

While discussion of how the district will use the funds has yet to take place, Jefferson High School and Clancy School have formed an interlocal agreement to house the funds, according to Norbeck. "The way I understand it is, it's two entities involved so they can make sure the funds are spent appropriately," Norbeck said. The schools in the agreement still have jurisdiction over their individual funds. As of April 26, Norbeck said he was unsure what guidelines the Office of Public Instruction has for the interlocal agreement.

Jefferson City Volunteer Fire Department

The Jefferson City Volunteer Fire Department used its $280,000 payment to upgrade the station's outdated equipment and to fund a $145,000 station expansion. Dave Cooper, president of the Jefferson City Rural Volunteer Fire District's board, told The Monitor that their Montana Tunnels payment was more than "five years' worth of normal tax revenue." He also explained that the department planned to use this money over the next 10 years rather than spending it all at once.

North Jefferson County Library District

North Jefferson County Library District Director Carly Delsigne said she was "very grateful for the money" the district received from the Montana Tunnels property tax payment, and will use it to "[serve] our communities to the best of our ability." The library district collected $130,949 from the tax distribution.

Civic duty, delayed

Although some view the payments as a bonus for the recipient entities, Jefferson County Treasurer Terri Kunz sees it as Montana Tunnels' failing to fulfill its civic duty.

"I realize some see it has a windfall, and maybe it is, but I see it has taxes that would have been paid year by year if Montana Tunnels had done their due diligence and paid on time," she said.

Norbeck also said he didn't view the payout as a gift, and that the district now has to find uses for a large amount of cash: "It's funds that, if [they] were paid appropriately at the time, maybe could have been used to address certain issues."

Although the involved agencies missed out on thousands of dollars worth of tax revenue for more than a decade, the millions of dollars of interest and penalties collected on the taxes and distributed to the agencies are a "bonus," according to Kunz.

The county used the annual budget guidelines set by the County Commissioners and the Office of Public Instruction to determine how much each agency received from the Montana Tunnels delinquent tax payment. These guidelines vary yearly due to changes in mill levies over time.

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