State assessment office closing in July

The state appraiser’s office in Sweet Grass County is scheduled to close at the end of July, according to a Dec. 14 news release by the Montana Department of Revenue. 

Peggy Campbell, a county native, is an appraiser for the revenue department and has worked in the Sweet Grass office since 1989. 

Although she will retain her full-time position after the office closes, Campbell — who also provides service to Stillwater County — is uncertain where her new office will be. 

The Sweet Grass office is one of 28 that will close across the state by February 2019. The closures are a result of a multi-million dollar budget cut handed down by the state legislature in 2017, according to Department of Revenue spokeswoman Mary Ann Dunwell.

The Property Assessment Division (PAD) of the revenue department, which oversees county assessment offices, lost a total of $3.1 million for fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019 as a result of the budget decision. 

The state will maintain an area office in Columbus under the new system, but it is unclear how often Campbell will be there. As part of its effort to cut costs, the department has proposed to outfit appraisers’ vehicles with “mobile technology”, i.e. telephone and internet, as well as devices that allow them to draw property sketches in the field, according to the news release. 

County officials and residents voiced concerns at a meeting with PAD officials Jan. 8. 

Commissioner Bob Faw opened the meeting by asking PAD officials how the office closure would contribute to cutting costs, noting that the county provided the office free of rent. 

Department official Tammy Bowling said that the PAD was consolidating the appraisal system into an area office due to personnel cuts in adjacent counties.

Sweet Grass is part of an eight-county area that Bowling will continue to manage through the central office in Columbus. Under the new system, Campbell may be required to work in any of the eight counties, Bowling said.

Areas counties that are closing or have already closed their offices include Big Horn, Wheatland, Petroleum and Musselshell. 

Officials and residents also raised concern about the fate of records and documents stored in the office. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.

By CHRIS AIKEN/ Pioneer reporter

 

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