LOCKWOOD - Officials at the Lockwood School District are concerned a tax protest by ExxonMobil following a reassessment of property values could cost the district up to $900,000.
"What we will do we don't know at this point," Eileen Johnson, superintendent of the Lockwood School District, told the Billings Gazette.
The property tax Exxon pays in Lockwood adds up to 44 percent of the town's tax base. But Exxon is protesting how much it should pay, and met Thursday with representatives from the Montana Department of Revenue.
School officials said that if Exxon protests the whole amount due, the $900,000, it would be equal to about 18 jobs. Johnson said the company has not yet decided how much of the tax to protest.
When a protest is made by a company or individual, the taxes are paid but the money goes into an interest-bearing escrow account rather than to schools or county services.
Schools don't have access to the money for at least a year.
"It's a huge deal," said Teresa Stroebe, who represents Lockwood on the Billings School District 2 board.
A year after the protest begins, school districts can access the money in the escrow account. If the county loses the protested tax case, it can levy a tax on the community to pay back the money.
Johnson noted that a problem with the system is that tax bills go out Nov. 1, and by law school budgets have to be finished and approved by August.
"Schools can't be in the middle of the year and have this happen," she said.