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Yellowstone County gives tax breaks to coal mine

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Yellowstone County commissioners have approved tax breaks for Signal Peak Energy and its Bull Mountain coal mine south of Roundup.

The tax breaks apply to the company's longwall mining equipment and will be worth about $288,000 in 2013, with the amount tapering in future years as the breaks phase out, County Treasurer Max Lennington said.

As a new or expanding business, Signal Peak can receive a lower property tax rate for 10 years. Tuesday's action by the commissioners extended tax breaks earlier approved by Musselshell County, when the equipment was located there.

Lennington said the mining equipment is valued at about $60 million but will steadily depreciate. The tax rate on that equipment will be cut by 50 percent for five years, then increase by 10 percentage points a year until it expires.

Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund said the break makes sense given the company's large contribution to the local economy. It has 325 workers — 190 of them from Yellowstone County — and a $39 million annual payroll.

He says it has spent $350 million on improvements since Bull Mountain reopened in 2008 as the only operational underground coal mine in the state.