The state of Oregon announced Monday it has settled a long-running property tax fight with Comcast. The cable giant agreed to pay $155 million in back taxes in counties where it operates.
The settlement will also produce higher property tax payments from Comcast in the future, although the dollar figure of that wasn’t immediately clear.
Gov. Kate Brown, who announced the settlement, urged cities and counties to use at least a portion of the settlement to help pay down their portion of the state’s $22 billion public pension debt. The immediate impact for schools is cloudier because higher property receipts are offset by lower payments from state government.
“We need to chip away at this problem together, and this settlement is another piece of the puzzle,” Brown said in a statement.
Comcast and Oregon’s Department of Revenue were locked in a nine-year legal battle over how to value the company’s property in the state. The Oregon Supreme Court sided with the state in 2014 and ruled that the company could be taxed on the value of its cable contracts and other intangible assets. At the time of the settlement, the Oregon Tax Court had not yet issued a ruling on the exact amount the company should pay.
Wendy Johnson, who specializes in tax issues at the League of Oregon Cities, said it appeared that “neither side gets what it thinks it should be getting” in the settlement. But she said the certainty of finally getting a large amount of back taxes was good news for local governments.
Amy Keiter, the director of external communications for Comcast in Oregon and southwest Washington, said the company basically operates in the Willamette Valley region from Portland to Eugene.
“We’re seeking predictability and certainty in our taxes,” Kreiter said, “and I think that’s the thing we’re most happy about in terms of reaching this settlement.”
Derrick Gasperini, communications director for the Department of Revenue, said the 10 counties where Comcast operates will soon be given guidance from the state on how to bill the company for their share of the back taxes. The counties will then distribute that money to schools and local governments.
The counties are: Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Yamhill.
Cities and counties will receive the lion’s share of the money. In addition, any additional property taxes to a school district will be offset by lower payments from the state. As a result, that gives the state more money to put into its overall school support fund, according to Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association.
“Essentially," Green said, "every school district in the state is going to benefit from this.”