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Dam Transfer Brings Drop In Lake County Tax Revenue

Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam, formerly Kerr Dam
Bill Barrett (CC-BY-SA-3)
Salish Kootenai Dam, formerly Kerr Dam

Last month the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes took ownership of the Kerr hydroelectric Dam, now called the Salish Kootenai Dam. As a result, Lake County will see a serious cut in tax revenues.

The Tribes do have not pay state property taxes on the land.

Before the Tribes took ownership, the dam was the largest source of tax revenue in Lake County – almost $1 million per year. Now that money is gone and tribal officials say they will not help offset the loss.

The former tax revenues supported the Polson School District with about $300,000 per year.
District Superintendent Linda Reksten says the local community will have to help make up for the loss, starting next year.

“Literally it is going to go back onto the local tax payers in the border of the Polson School District. People’s tax bills will go up.”
Reksten says the school district values their relationship with the Tribes and wants to continue to be partners with them.

Lake County Commissioner Gale Decker was disappointed by the Tribe's decision, but not surprised.

"You know there is not a lot you can do about it. You just need to come up with a way to deal with it and move on."

According to Decker, the Tribe told him the decision was based on the economics of the situation. The price for the dam’s power isn’t great right now. But if that changes, the tribe could possibly afford to help with the tax loss.

"They would be willing to revisit that and possible do something in the future."

Lake County will create a plan to deal with the losses in their next fiscal year budget. Montana Public Radio has not been able to contact the tribe for this story.

Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.