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Lawmaker's bill could be tool to collect Smurfit taxes - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Lawmaker's bill could be tool to collect Smurfit taxes

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MISSOULA -

When the Smurfit Stone Mill went out of business seven years ago, Missoula County, and especially the Frenchtown School District took a big hit in property tax income. Yet even with new owners stepping in with plans to redevelop the mill site, the situation hasn't gotten any better.

In fact, owners M2Green are more than $1 million behind, a problem driven at least in part by delays in getting contamination cleanup underway for the proposed Superfund site.

"The way the law currently stands they can file for a tax lien against the property. But the problem with that is they would then inherit the property, which nobody wants because it's contaminated," said Rep. Kim Dudik (D-Mont.). "So then they'd be charged with cleaning it up. So it's not a very workable system for counties, or anyone else except for the person who owns the property, that's eventually going to profit from it."

Dudik's bill would allow the local taxing jurisdictions to file civil suit, using the courts to force action.

"It's not for residential property. It's not for agricultural property. It's not for timber property," Dudik said. "It's specifically for commercial industrial properties when there's an owner who's not paying taxes for whatever reason."

At the same time, Dudik says proposal still gives property owners the means to answer the suit through due process.

"If they were delinquent and perhaps unaware of it, or where unintentionally delinquent or couldn't pay their taxes for some reason they would still have all the legal avenues to them to either pay the taxes or to set something up so that it wasn't just an intentional slight and disregard to the community where they're located at," Dudik said. "So, it doesn't take away any rights of the property owners at all."

Missoula County has been increasingly concerned about the status of the delinquent taxes, especially with Green Investment Group running into legal problems with similar redevelopment schemes in Canada last year.

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