10/22/2014 10:02:00 AM Swinomish taxing
The Swinomish Indian Senate has adopted a formal tax code aimed at eliminating the possibility of refunds for the 931 parcels coming off the county’s tax rolls. A federal court decision exempting all structures on tribal land from property taxes opened the possibility that homeowners on leased tribal land in Shelter Bay and in the Pull & be Damned Road neighborhood could seek up to three years of property tax refunds. While the owners have never been taxed on the leased tribal land their homes sit on, the county has been assessing taxes on the value of the structures. This year, the now-exempt parcels generated about $1.8 million in property taxes that the county distributes to nine public entities the money supports. Officials at La Conner School District and Fire District 13 were horrified at the prospect of being forced to refund three years of taxes. If everyone were to demand a refund, the tax supported entities — and ultimately the remaining taxpayers — would be on the hook for more than $5 million. The so-called “Great Wolf” federal court ruling made the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community the only entity entitled to impose taxes on its reservation land held in trust by the federal government. To preserve the funding for the schools and emergency services, the tribe essentially laid claim to all the taxes the county has collected on the trust land going back to 2011 and then decreed that the money will go to the various entities that depend on the funding. People who have paid their taxes, including the second half for 2014 due next week, will not owe money to the tribe. But, according to a press release issued by the tribe on Friday, anyone who receives a property tax refund will automatically owe back taxes to Swinomish. Should the tribe be forced to collect the taxes, there will be a $500 administrative fee for each year of taxes owed, and there will also be interest and penalties and any court fees and attorney costs on top of the back taxes. “I’m really pleased the tribe has stepped forward,” Fire District 13 Chief Roy Horn said at Tuesday’s board of commissioners meeting. Now that the tribe has essentially erased the refund worry for public agencies, the Tribal Senate is working on a permanent tax code for 2015 and future years, according to Friday’s press release. Swinomish was not involved in the “Great Wolf” case, which originated in Thurston County concerning that county taxing the Chehalis Tribe’s Great Wolf Lodge. Still, Swinomish welcomes its tribal authority to levy taxes to support public services, Tribal Chairman Brian Cladoosby has said in written statements. Those services include police protection, building and land use planning services and protection and management of natural resources.