Plum Creek’s sewer strategy 

They’re considered as inevitable as death to most of us, yet Columbia Falls-based Plum Creek Timber Company, which hauled in $1.5 billion in revenues last year, has done a remarkable job avoiding them.

The company pays no corporate income taxes to the state of Montana, and successfully lobbied the 2007 Legislature to keep it that way. In 2005, Plum Creek was able to cut its Flathead County taxes in half through tax protests.

Now the company is fighting city taxes.

On July 5, the company sent a letter to Columbia Falls City Manager William Shaw requesting that its plywood plant, which borders the city and currently employs a failing drain field, be allowed to connect to city sewer.

Plum Creek said it would pay approximately $12,000 in connection fees, which is standard, but opposes annexation, which is normally required to connect to city sewer, and would mean paying city taxes.

Shaw has recommended the city allow Plum Creek to hook up to city sewer without annexation.

In its letter to the city, Plum Creek notes that it has the option to continue using the drain fields, writing, “Connection to the city sewer is the preferred option from an environmental perspective; however, Plum Creek is not interested in being annexed by the city.”

In his memo to the council endorsing Plum Creek’s proposal, Shaw too notes that having Plum Creek connect to city sewer would be “beneficial to the community.”

Plum Creek Director of Community Affairs Jim Leaner readily admits taxes are part of the company’s anti-annexation stance.

“An unexpected additional tax on top of what we already pay is something we would need to take a close look at,” he says.

Leaner also notes that while the corporation avoids paying state corporate taxes, it paid nearly $10 million in state property, payroll and other taxes in 2006.

Lehner says he didn’t know the exact amount of city taxes the company would be on the hook for if annexed, and Shaw did not return calls for further comment.

A hearing before the Columbia Falls City Council on Plum Creek’s request is set for July 16.
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