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June 19, 2019

4/15/2015 8:00:00 AM
La Conner tells federal lawmakers to fix tribal land tax problem
Sandy Stokes

La Conner School District and town officials are scheduled to meet today with a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, to lay the tax disparity caused by a 2013 federal court decision at the federal government’s feet.
The offices of U.S. senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have also been contacted, and their staff members have promised to schedule meetings with local officials soon.
Mayor Ramon Hayes, with other partners including the school district, launched the lobbying campaign last month. This came after local residents saw their property tax bills jump by up to 23 percent because 931 parcels were removed from the county’s tax rolls this year, shifting taxes to support the schools and other entities to the remaining taxpayers.
In the so-called Great Wolf Decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that all structures on land the government holds in trust for a tribe is immune from county and state taxes, regardless of who owns the buildings. That means the homes in Shelter Bay and in the Pull and Be Damned Road neighborhood built on leased Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation land can no longer be taxed to pay for schools, the library and other non-tribal services.
Last year the homes on leased tribal land generated about $1.8 million in taxes collected by the county. This year, those homeowners received bills from the Swinomish Tax Authority, which is levying assessments at the same rate as the county.
Though the tribe has promised to contribute about $26,000 to the library and $400,000 to the schools from the money it collects, that amount is not enough to fill the funding gap.
“I appreciate the tribe’s commitment to the schools in 2015,” Hayes said, “and we would encourage our tribal partners to fully fund the schools and other services in 2016.”
To avoid a budget crisis this year, the school district, which takes the biggest bite in local tax bills, shifted all but $250,000 of the $779,000 projected shortfall to those left in its shrunken tax base. And Fire District 13, which is promised an extra $30,000 from the tribe, shifted its entire tax bill to the remaining parcels.
“The Point Elliott Treaty was signed 160 years ago,” Hayes noted. The 1855 treaty established several Puget Sound area reservations, including Swinomish.
“The treaty has been supported by case law year after year and now with the Great Wolf Decision, we believe that the federal government has a significant role in mitigating the collateral impacts to this community.”
Last week town and school officials met with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn in an emergency meeting called by state Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. La Conner Councilman Bill Stokes had gone to Olympia to meet with Smith, state Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island and state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor late last month asking for their help as part of the mayor’s lobbing campaign.
At Dorn’s request, Mayor Hayes, La Conner School Superintendent Tim Bruce and La Conner School Board President Rick Thompson sent a letter to the state legislature asking for emergency funding.
Superintendent Bruce was on the phone again to Rep. Smith on Tuesday, he said, reiterating what is being requested and why.

If the state legislature acts before the end of this year’s session, La Conner area taxpayers could see relief next year.
Meanwhile, the local lobbying effort will continue until there is a permanent solution from the federal government.
“The town, Shelter Bay and the tribe have a long track record of working well together,” Hayes said. “The best way to keep that in place is to find solutions equitable to everyone.”

Related Stories:
• Tribal land tax issue - No let-up in the local lobbying effort

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Article comment by: will macon

You are angry at the wrong people. It is the Tribes land. You should be ticked off at the corporations who are taking advantage of these tax breaks. I don't see any of them ponying up to help with schools. Be thankful that the Tribe offered anything you ungrateful schmuck. Their land was conquered and people slaughtered to fuel the greed of this country. The US Constitution did not provide due process when children were murdered and women raped, so why is it all of a sudden a "right" for you and the other self-centered greed mongers. Go find somewhere else to live.

Posted: Friday, May 1, 2015
Article comment by: Paul Rosell

This is a Constitutonal issue. The Tribes will not allow citizens of the United States who are not members of the Tribe to vote. Therefore, no person should be subject to any tax from the Triibe who is not a member of the Tribe. Taxation without Representation is the very reason thie USA was founded in the first place. The Tribes lack the training, the staff, the knowlledge or the experiience in property appraisal and taxation. What due process do the property owners have? Due process is a Constitutional Right and the Tribes grant no such appeal or due process rights. So the Taxpayers have no Represnetation among elected officials who levy the tax, and the Taxpayers have no due process rights in the event of error or fraud lack of equity in the taxation process. As a frequent visitor to the area, who has experience with property tax issues, I can tell you that this is a mess. It is time for Congress to change the Treaty which was the basis of this Judicial mess.

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