by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
November 12, 1998
Property owners who live within the boundaries of the SOS Hospital District in Seeley Lake and Condon should double-check the real estate property tax bills they received in the mail last week. The bills mistakenly charge 10 mills for the SOS Hospital District levy, rather than the 3 mill levy in effect this year.
SOS (Seeley Swan) Hospital District board, Mary Ann Morin, discovered the mistake on Monday and notified Missoula County Financial Officer, Jane Ellis.
Morin explained during Monday night's meeting of the hospital district board that the SOS mill levy amount should have gone down on this year's tax bills. "When I opened my bill and saw that it was the same as last year, I called Jane Ellis," she explained, adding that Ellis immediately confirmed the mistake.
"It's entirely my error," Jane Ellis said on Tuesday. "It is certainly not something the SOS board did."
The Seeley Swan Hospital District Board oversees operation of the Seeley Lake Medical Center. From time to time the board has asked voters to approve mill levies above the three-mill permissive levy allowed by law, Ellis said. In the spring of 1996, threatened with the possible closure of the Medical Center, voters approved a 10-mill levy for two years to enable the hospital district board to re-organize the clinic and keep it open. That voter-approved 10-mill levy appeared on tax bills sent out during the fall of 1996 and 1997. This year the SOS mill levy returns to the automatic three-mill permissive amount allowed by law without a vote.
"I was under the mistaken impression that we were in the middle of one of those two-year periods, not at the end of it," Ellis explained. Missoula County officials, she said, are in the process of determining how and when to mail the corrected bills, which she hopes will be in the mail to taxpayers within the hospital district by the end of November.
"This is not an insurmountable task," Ellis said, adding that taxpayers should look at their tax bills carefully. If they are within the hospital district boundaries, the SOS levy is identified separately on the bills. (If the SOS levy is not identified separately on the tax bills, the property owner is outside the hospital district boundary, she explained, and not subject to the local tax.) She advised property owners within the hospital district not to pay their taxes until they receive the corrected bills. People who have already paid their bills will receive a refund from Missoula County for any amount they were overcharged.
"From a taxpayer perspective, the good news is the corrected bills will be less," she said. Taxpayers within the hospital district will have an additional 30 days to pay their taxes after they receive the corrected information, she said.
Tax bill errors happen once in awhile, Ellis explained. "We're human and we're going to make mistakes," she said. Missoula County administers tax bills for nearly 35,000 different properties annually, she said. Ellis did not know the exact number of bills affected by the hospital district levy error. However, hospital district board members at Monday night's regular board meeting, indicated that the number affected would be comparatively small, probably less than 10% of the total tax bills in the county.