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Smurfit mill tax settlement expected to ease Frenchtown money pr - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Smurfit mill tax settlement expected to ease Frenchtown money problems

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MISSOULA - It's not all that was owed, but a settlement of nearly $1 million to clear delinquent taxes for the old Smurfit mill property is a major relief for Missoula County and its junior taxing districts. 

Thursday's settlement announcement came after weeks of intense negotiations with Wakefield Kennedy, the Washington-based lender and development firm which wanted to protect its interests in the property under the control of M2Green

The hammer for the county came in the form of a new law enacted by the Montana Legislature which allowed the county to seek legal action, claiming proceeds from an auction of mill equipment last summer.

"We listened to what the people were saying in Frenchtown, how they've been harmed by non-payment of taxes to the detriment of the citizens there, to the school there, to the job force there," said Rep. Kim Dudik (D-Missoula).

The settlement totals $967,000 -- or 89% of the total taxes and penalty due. But for local jurisdictions like the Frenchtown School District, the settlement is huge as over $300,000 means the District will no longer be spending its reserves.

"We're really only waving a portion of the penalty and interest and the only reason we're allowed to do that is because of it being in the legal system that we could do that. Because normally you can't do that. But it is a big relief," Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said.

"Yeah, this is a huge step. Whether it's the school district, the fire department out in Frenchtown, they've been short these tax dollars for a long time. So it feels great to be able to make this step to at least try our best to make them whole," added Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

We still don't know what will ultimately happen to the mill property. M2Green's plans for a "technology center" appear to have hit a dead end but with the tax bill resolved, there's anticipation of getting the lands contributing to the economy once more.

"Hopefully, I mean if Wakefield Kennedy is willing to pay the taxes and foreclose they've got some ideas. So hopefully they'll end up with jobs in the end, which will be good too," Curtiss said.

Thursday's announced settlement covers all but one parcel of the mill property, and doesn't preclude Missoula County from seeking future legal action if the tax bill remains unresolved in the future. 

RELATED: EPA unveils details of Smurfit cleanup plan

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