Collapsed - Chapter 1 (Pt. 5)


But there's another side to the rich out-of-staters. Emil Erhardt added, The Stock Farm provides employment with high-paying jobs, it pays a high fraction of the property taxes for the whole Bitterroot Valley, it pays for its own security staff, and it doesn't make many demands on the community or on local government services.

Our sheriff doesn't get called to the Stock Farm to break up bar fights, and Stock Farm owners don't send their children to the schools here." John Cook acknowledged, "The plus side of those rich owners is that if Charles Schwab hadn't bought up all that land, it wouldn't still be providing wildlife habitat and green open space, because that land would otherwise have been subdivided by some developer."

Because the rich out-of-staters were attracted to Montana by its beautiful environment, some of them take good care of their property and become leaders in defending the environment and instituting land planning. For example, my summer home for the last seven years has been a rented house situated on the Bitterroot River south of Hamilton, and belonging to a private entity called the Teller Wildlife Refuge. Otto Teller was a rich Californian who liked to come to Montana to fish for trout.

One day, he was infuriated to encounter large construction machinery dumping dirt into one of his favorite fishing holes on the Gallatin River. He became further enraged when he saw how massive clear-cutting carried out by logging companies in the 1950s was devastating his beloved trout streams and damaging their water quality. In 1984 Otto began buying up prime riverside land along the Bitterroot River and incorporated it into a private wildlife refugee, which he nevertheless let local people continue to visit in order to hunt and fish.

 He ultimately donated conservation easements on his land to a nonprofit organization called the Montana Land Reliance, in order to ensure that the land would be managed in perpetuity so as to preserve its environmental qualities. Had Otto Teller, that wealthy Californian, not bought that 1,600 acres of land, it would have been subdivided for small house lots.

The influx of newcomers, the resulting rise in land prices and property taxes, the poverty of Montana old-timer residents, and their conservative attitude towards government and taxes (see below) all contribute to the plight of Montana schools, which are funded largely by property taxes. Because Ravalli County has so little industrial or commercial property, the main source of property taxes there is residential property taxes, and those have been rising with the increase in land values.

 To old-timers and less affluent newcomers already on a tight budget, every increase in property taxes is a big deal. Not surprisingly, they often react by voting against proposed school bonds and supplemental localproperty tax levies for their schools.

As a result, while public schools account for two-thirds of Ravalli County local government spending, that spending as a percentage of personal income stands last among 24 rural western U.S. counties comparable to Ravalli…


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