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Quist falling victim to fake news

I am the Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer, so I know a little bit about taxes. In a world where the President Trump constantly attacks journalists and news organizations as “fake news”, one reporter, Tom Lutey, is doing little to lend credibility to his profession when he wrote: “Quist has ties to rental property not listed on state tax rolls.” This story is ominous in tone and extremely misleading. When I was a practicing attorney, I routinely drafted powers of attorney to allow family members to manage each other’s financial affairs.

According to the reporter, Bonni Quist had a power of attorney to manage a rental owned by her daughter. Not surprisingly, rent checks were made out to Bonni but not reported by her on tax returns. Under a power of attorney, Bonni would have been acting as an agent for her daughter. Checks made out to Bonni are easier for Bonni to cash, but ultimately the money is her daughter’s and reportable on her daughter’s tax return. A mother helping her daughter – a touring musician – is not ominous, it’s commendable.

As for the property not being on the tax rolls, nothing could be more misleading. The property was on the tax rolls but it was assessed as a barn instead of a dwelling. As the Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer, I can assertively state that this is extremely common. The Department of Revenue is charged with accurately assessing all property every two years so that local taxing jurisdictions can levy taxes. The task is extremely difficult given the sheer volume of properties in Montana (Missoula County alone has over 50,000 parcels of property). At the end of the day, the onus is on the Department of Revenue, not the Quists.

In my tenure as Clerk and Treasurer, I have never had a taxpayer come to me and ask that their property be taxed at a higher rate. It is not their responsibility to do so. I challenge Mr. Lutey to find serious examples of this actually happening in Montana. Under Mr. Lutey’s logic, any time you do any work to your house, you should inform the government and ask to be taxed more.

Readers of the Billings Gazette and other Lee Enterprises Newspapers deserve better from those writing the stories. It’s a disservice to all of us when a reporter leads us to believe what they want us to believe, instead of the facts.

Tyler Gernant is the Clerk and Treasurer for Missoula County. Prior to being elected to this position, Mr. Gernant was an attorney specializing in real estate, taxation, and business matters.

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