BY BLAKE HEMPSTEAD
The battle for the Mill Creek TIFID is finally nearing its completion.
According to Dr. Tom Darnell, Superintendent of School District 10 in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, the Department of Revenue has rescinded a hearing pertaining to SD10 receiving and misusing funds collected from the Mill Creek TIFID (Tax Increment Finance Industrial District), particularly involving the NorthWestern Energy Generation Station east of Anaconda.
With this action, a letter has been received and signed by Judge Ed McLean releasing SD10 from any further action in the case; meaning the school district, once the Deer Lodge County clerk receives the order, can again begin to use the funds they were entitled to all along.
“All we really know is the DOR vacated the action against us out of the blue,” Darnell said Wednesday morning. “They are out of the picture now. It came as a surprise they were bowing out.”
The Mill Creek TIFID was created when Anaconda-Deer Lodge County and SD10 joined forces to help defray costs of water lines needed for the plant. The agreement was each would split a portion of the taxes collected – with the state of Montana receiving another portion – approximately $1.2 million per year until the bonds were retired, to use for improvements in the school infrastructure including their buildings and grounds.
Now, Darnell is looking forward to arranging meetings with the trustees to revisit some pressing issues put aside when the TIFID monies were put in limbo.
“We have a few projects still on the books – some of the more notable projects include replacing heat exchangers and windows at Dwyer, and the proposed upgrades on Mitchell Stadium,” Darnell said. “My suggestion will go back and revisit a few proposed actions specifically for Mitchell Stadium, and decide whether we are going to create a stadium bond or not.”
To clarify, Mitchell Stadium’s upgrade would not cost the taxpayers anything like other bond issues. They were always going to use the funds raised from the TIFID to pay for the venerable stadium.
The whole issue with the DOR began when Darnell made it clear he wanted to make significant improvements to a steadily eroding Mitchell Stadium to the tune of $5 million. Several state officials, including those from the INTERCAP loan program and suits at the DOR stepped in.
The DOR made it perfectly clear they didn’t think spending TIFID money on what they called “a football stadium” was in the best interest of SD10. However, Darnell was tired of patchwork and band-aids to one of the most historically significant facilities in Anaconda, or Montana for that matter.
Darnell hired Schlenker & McKittrick Architects (SMA Architects) of Helena to do a study and build designs of not only improving Mitchell Stadium but also keeping the historic significance of the facility as well.
But since DOR entered into litigation to limit SD10s ability to spend the money they were entitled to from the TIFID, calling it “double taxation”, the money has been placed in an account until the matter could be resolved while leaving Deer Lodge County out of their complaint.
“Obviously we’re doing what’s within the bounds of the spirit of the Mill Creek TIFID, and not proceeding in the theory DOR was accusing us of,” Darnell said.”Maybe that’s why they conceded, they finally realized we were doing everything within the law in terms of spending the TIFID monies on needed remedies within the district.”
Now, upwards of $1.5 million will be available for SD10 to continue its plans of improving every one of their schools and properties.
“We have over a million just sitting there that we couldn’t touch, and that number should increase when we reasses the taxes received from the county,” Darnell added. “That money will go to good use.”