NorthWestern Energy could be facing up to $1.5 million in fines for being a day late on its first tax bill of 2018.
In Montana, property taxes are paid to the county in which the property resides. NorthWestern, which operates in 46 counties across the state, missed the deadline for its property tax bill in every one.
"We missed them all," said Butch Larcombe, a spokesman for NorthWestern Energy.
In Yellowstone County, the utility was fined $138,267 and in Stillwater County, it was fined $34,000. The state levies a 2 percent fine on the amount of property tax due for missed payments.
This year's property tax bills, which cover the last six months of 2017, had to be postmarked by May 31. NorthWestern Energy waited until June 1.
Overall, the utility is looking at fees from across the state that could reach $1.5 million.
"The late payment was due (to) an error in our administrative process," Larcombe said. "We have taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again."
NorthWestern Energy is the state's largest property taxpayer, paying $150 million a year. As a result, the utility is aware of what it owes and works to make sure it's responsible for paying its taxes.
"We don't want to repeat this," Larcombe said.
It's apparently the first time NorthWestern has missed a deadline for a tax bill. Jerry Friend, Stillwater County treasurer, said he's never seen NorthWestern miss a payment. Sherry Long, treasurer for Yellowstone County said the same.
"They've always been really good," she said.
Still, NorthWestern is required to pay the fine; state law allows for no grace period.
For that reason, Friend said it was important that his office leverage the fine. Penalties and interest are charged to big operators and small property owners alike, he said.
"I wanted to show the taxpayers it doesn't matter if you're a big guy or a little guy," he said. "If you're late, you're late."
NorthWestern has no plans to fight the penalties.
"We don’t believe we have an avenue to appeal and will pay the fine," Larcombe said.
NorthWestern Energy was one of the state's bigger beneficiaries of the Trump federal income tax cuts. The utility company is expected to generate $14 million in tax savings, money that, by state law, must be passed on to customers.