DAWSON/PHILLIPS COUNTIES, Mont. – The Keystone XL Pipeline, which has been on hold since January, was set to bring in close to $80 million for rural Montana communities.
Dawson County has dealt with ongoing uncertainty for over 10 years, and millions of dollars per year are still on the line. County Commissioner Brad Mitchell says those funds could cut taxes.
Dawson County was expecting close to $2.5 million to funnel from trickle-down pipeline revenue. Those pipeline plans are still on hold and that money is also up in the air. If the project picks back up, Dawson County residents could expect significant tax cuts instead of community improvements.
"That's not just a surplus, what it effects is our taxpayers because that goes into the tax base, in turn helping people maybe lower taxes. It's not just a windfall that we can go out and spend on projects or whatever but it is very vital to the economy,” Mitchell said.
That would impact close to 9,500 taxpayers and could build funding for larger projects. Commissioner Mitchell said if things picked back up, road and building improvements could happen over the next few years.
Natural gas is a major source of revenue for other areas, but it's been on the decline by over 90% over the past few years, especially in Phillips County. Commissioners there were also hoping for a boost from the Keystone project.
Commissioner Richard Dunbar said Phillips county could be missing out on anywhere from 1-point-5 to 2 million dollars per year in property taxes collectively. Keystone would be the largest taxpayer in the county by almost double compared to other gas companies. According to Dunbar, the money would help supplement such little gas revenue over the last few years and immediately help budgeting concerns.
"Basically, the first round of money that comes in is going to be to shore-up the budgets that we've been trimming back on for the last 10 years. We had reserves built up we thought would last until the pipeline was built but the reserves have been gone the past couple of years,” Dunbar said.
The money would increase their overall budget by 30%, including possible raises for employees and additional staffing within the Road and Clerk/Recorder Departments.
Both Dawson and Phillips County Commissioners have said it wouldn’t be fair to start planning for major projects with such continued uncertainty surrounding the pipeline. They wish to wait on renovation plans until there’s money in the bank.