Supreme Court: CHS dispute must go through tax appeal process

2013-04-17T12:45:00Z 2014-08-25T07:43:32Z Supreme Court: CHS dispute must go through tax appeal processBy JAN FALSTAD The Billings Gazette

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state Revenue Department in a property tax dispute with CHS Inc.

Yellowstone County Treasurer Max Lenington said that since 2009, CHS has disputed the way Montana assessed its property taxes, chiefly on the Laurel refinery. CHS has appealed nearly $14.6 million in property taxes from 2009 through 2012, he said.

The Supreme Court ruling was procedural. The court ruled that CHS' challenge must be raised through Montana’s administrative tax appeal process before resorting to the courts.

CHS began disputing its case administratively and then sued in Yellowstone County District Court. When that court ruled against it, CHS appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

CHS said it filed its protest in District Court so the issue would be resolved more quickly, but it will pursue an appeal administratively as soon as possible.

"We continue to believe that the Laurel refinery has been assessed millions of dollars in excess property value in comparison to other area refineries, as much as twice as much," said CHS spokeswoman Lani Jordan. 

While protests are being resolved, individuals and companies must pay their property taxes into an escrow account.

Laurel Superintendent Tim Bronk said in 2009 the district spent the protested money and had to pay it back when CHS won a legal round.

Since then, the district has been spending protested tax funds conservatively, he said, including delaying technology purchases, using textbooks longer and cutting travel expenses.

"I would be happy to have this protest over with and resolved," Bronk said.

In addition to the Laurel refinery, CHS operates marketing facilities in Gallatin and Missoula counties.

Gene Walborn, division administrator for the state Revenue Department in Helena, welcomed the court's decision.

"I don't think they can effectively appeal this to the U.S. Supreme Court," said Revenue Department spokesman Mary Ann Dunwall.

Some other major corporations doing business in Montana also have disputed the Revenue Department’s methods and procedures. Phillips 66 is protesting some of its taxes administratively, so it won't be affected by this ruling, Walborn said.

Verizon, Bresnan Broadband, now called Optimum, AT&T and Puget Sound Energy are also protesting their property taxes in Yellowstone County. After several years of protests by large companies, the county is holding about $35 million in disputed taxes, Lenington said.

Meanwhile, the Montana Legislature has passed at least one bill calling for interim studies of the tax appeal process.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. End Daze
    Report Abuse
    End Daze - April 19, 2013 9:29 am
    Shame on the Department of Revenue. Under Schwietzer the DOR was being "creative" in the way they collect taxes. Their excesses is what has created the problem. Their excesses have impacted more than refineries, but not everyone has the wherewithall to fight the system. Most just pay and scramble to keep afloat. Thanks to simple-minded thinking and uninformed people they get away with stuff like that. The mistakes that the DOR makes and the distress they impose on all local governments isn't reported on nor ever compiled in a way that ever holds them accountable. In a sense the refinerie and those who are filing suits are doing a public service in trying to hold the DOR accountable. It is too bad the system is such that it causes so much pain for schools etc. But the fact is there is no constitutional requirement to go through the hoops and bureaucracies that have been created to thwart due process. Everyone is supposed to be able to file suit in the courts. The court was wrong.
  2. End Daze
    Report Abuse
    End Daze - April 19, 2013 9:23 am
    And GE, you forgot that GE doesn't pay taxes; and in Billings they got the feds to anti up a million bucks to build their parking lot. But the GE CEO is one of Obama's top advisors on "economy." They are also making big big big bucks from Obamacare.
  3. End Daze
    Report Abuse
    End Daze - April 19, 2013 9:22 am
    So why don't they just turn over the entire operation to the government. That would certainly be better. Maybe Brian Schwietzer is available to run it.
  4. End Daze
    Report Abuse
    End Daze - April 19, 2013 9:20 am
    Paying wages is not philanthropy - people work darn hard for what they earn (most of the time), but they do need those jobs in order to earn those paychecks. Most especially in regard to CHS, who do you believe are the vile recipients of "corporate welfare," Dave. Please identify them most specifically. If it's not the workers, it must be the investors -- the owners of the company? Who are they? Do you use any of the products they make? If so, then you are an enabler. You should divest yourself of all such items that can only exist through the manufacturing that such entities do.
  5. End Daze
    Report Abuse
    End Daze - April 19, 2013 9:14 am
    Hmmm, how simple minded, trustee. Do you really believe that is true? They don't pay taxes? You ought to find out how much in taxes they do pay. I'll bet its a whole lot more than you pay. And, if you think they are just "increasing their profits" -- why don't you quit buying their products (gasoline for example). If you don't do that then I am inclined to think that you are very self-serving and indifferent to supporting such evil people, based upon your own standards.
  6. End Daze
    Report Abuse
    End Daze - April 19, 2013 9:11 am
    they sure do provide you with jobs and a lot of products you use -- and they do pay a whole lot of taxes, which relieves those paid by homeowners. Cows stink too, but their milk is sure good.
  7. blackpowder
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    blackpowder - April 18, 2013 2:32 pm
    I don't think a lot of the commenter understand what's going on. Cenex is not trying to get out of paying taxes, their contesting the rate they pay compared to the refineries in Billings. You ought to really understand what's going on before commenting.
  8. TeresaML
    Report Abuse
    TeresaML - April 18, 2013 12:52 pm
    Now I don't know enough about this to make an educated comment about the taxes they pay or don't pay, but what I do know is that the refineries sure do stink the place up.
  9. trustee
    Report Abuse
    trustee - April 18, 2013 9:36 am
    Observe the traffic to the refinery M-F from about 6:30-7:00am -- it is bumper to bumper traffic -- using the roads to increase their profits -- but not paying taxes. Stop by the refinery at 5:30pm and observe how many of those refinery workers don't obey the STOP traffic sign. Ask the Laurel PD how many traffic trickets are issues for speeding through the residential area. CHS has created a dangerous situation for people who live or walk in that area. CHS needs to pay taxes!
  10. Ceithern
    Report Abuse
    Ceithern - April 18, 2013 9:35 am
    What is their fare share, what % is that? CHS employs almost half of Laurel (other half being the railroad and agriculture) so if they are 'evil' why work there? If CHS left, would Laurel remain?

    Your last statement is entirely false. The only ones refusing to pay taxes predominantly reside in DC ( If and when CHS tax responsibility increases the cost is directly translated to the products produced; and we will pay for this increase at the pump and in jobs.
  11. El Lobo Sangriento
    Report Abuse
    El Lobo Sangriento - April 17, 2013 7:41 pm
    The Supreme Court made no ruling on the value of the Refinery therefore tax money will not be freed up (released from escrow). The Supreme Court merely ruled that CHS must go through the administrative appeals process (county and state tax appeal boards) rather than directly to district court when appealing property tax valuation issues. All tax payers have the right under Montana Code to appeal taxes. CHS like other businesses and ranchers in Montana probably incurred a sharp increase in property taxes from one year to the next; just look at all the appeals in 2010. Large tax increases = little investment = less jobs for MT.
  12. Dave Bovee
    Report Abuse
    Dave Bovee - April 17, 2013 7:25 pm
    Supporting corporate welfare is a stupid position. Paying wages is not philanthropy, despite what you kneewalking, corporate worshipping drones keep bleating. And Yaaay!
  13. Pipeguy
    Report Abuse
    Pipeguy - April 17, 2013 4:05 pm
    Good ruling! These greedy corporate behemoths must be forced to pay thier fair share. Cenex has a terrible track record of violating laws and regulations. They have been caught using illegal workers, unlicensed electricians, unregistered apprentices and violating safety standards. And you know who will pay more taxes if they keep refusing to pay. US.
  14. 2012
    Report Abuse
    2012 - April 17, 2013 4:01 pm
    They are a good corporate citizen, the Dept of Revenue changed the rules and they didn't agree. The court made a decision and now they'll pay. They pay hundreds of millions in wages and contribute tremendously to the local area in numerous different causes. Shame on you, what a stupid thing to say.
  15. BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest
    Report Abuse
    BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest - April 17, 2013 1:39 pm
    Shame on cenex. ! So much for
    Good corporate citizens.

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