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January 18, 2020

1/7/2015 9:58:00 AM
Tribe to extend senior tax exemptions
Sandy Stokes

Under its new Trust Improvement Use and Occupancy Tax Code, the Swinomish Senate has decided to adopt a policy granting tax exemptions to low-income seniors and disabled people.
Most of the homes in Shelter Bay and in the Pull & Be Damned Road neighborhood were removed from the county property tax rolls on Jan. 1, as a result of a federal court ruling that determined homes build on leased tribal trust land are immune from property taxes.
However, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, the sovereign government of the Swinomish Reservation, will impose its own taxes on those 931 parcels that are now exempt from state and county taxes.
The tribe issued a press release late Friday stating that the new senior exemption forms will be easy to understand and apply for. It also stated that the “Tribal tax rate for 2015 matches the total county and state tax rate for similar fee simple properties on the Swinomish Reservation.”
Skagit County Assessor Dave Thomas said his office is expected to finalize the 2015 tax rates late next week. With the parcels removed, the property taxes will be absorbed by the remaining taxpayers, which means that the owners of about 2,500 parcels within the La Conner School District will likely see their tax bills go up hundreds of dollars this year.
If the tribe uses the county’s rate for this year, it means homeowners now subject to tribal taxes will be paying more, too. But their money won’t be going for the same public services; it will mostly go toward tribal government services.
The tribe has announced that it will make “contributions” to the La Conner School District, Fire District 13 and La Conner Library from the taxes it plans to collect. Even so, taxes for all three agencies will be raised on the remaining 2,500 taxable parcels left to pick up the tax burden because the tribe’s contributions are not expected to fill the funding gaps.
In the tribe’s press release on Friday, Tribal Chairman Brian Cladoosby said, “If necessary, we will enforce the obligation to pay the tribal tax, but we’re optimistic this won’t be necessary.”
The leases people signed for the trust land their homes are built on contain provisions that require that taxes be paid. “There is enforcement available under the leases,” Cladoosby said, “but again, we don’t want to have to go there.”
Also, the press release announced the planned creation of a Taxpayer Consultation Council “to provide a formal forum in which taxpayer representatives may engage in dialogue with tribal representatives and which make recommendations to the Swinomish Senate.”
The schools, which are funded primarily through voter-approved levies, account for the largest share of property owners’ taxes. Last year, the school district received about $800,000 in property tax from the now exempt parcels. The tribe’s announced school contribution of $400,000 will be about half what the schools would have received in taxes from those parcels.
Thomas, the county assessor, said he’s talked to several people in the La Conner area whose age and income levels make them eligible for the senior tax exemptions, but they refuse to apply. That’s because senior exemptions eliminate school taxes, and some seniors, he said, “want to pay the school taxes.”

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