County, PCI on right track

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anyone who thought the dispute between the Escambia County Commission and Poarch Band of Creek Indians would end with a statement last week from the acting chief of the Interior Department’s Indian Affairs Bureau was likely mistaken.

But our local officials — both county and tribe — can take this into their own hands and come to an agreement, because everyone has a lot to lose in this situation.

Here’s where we started: Commission members said they wanted a federal opinion about whether Poarch is on federally protected property, arguing that a three-year-old Supreme Court ruling could say otherwise. The county’s argument is that a citizen could sue commissioners if Poarch actually owes property taxes because its land is not protected.

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Poarch, of course, argues that it is protected, and the Interior Department agreed. It stands to reason that means the tribe’s property cannot be taxed, but who knows whether a court would rule that way.

And Poarch officials must know there is a possibility of that, because they are lobbying for a so-called “legislative fix” for the Supreme Court ruling.

And while we don’t think that the county commission itself would take Poarch to court, a citizen certainly could take the county to court. Regardless of how the cased ended up, it would cost taxpayers and the county a lot of money.

So we see it as a positive sign that commissioners said this week they want to hold off on any legal action and meet with tribal members.

Both sides have said in recent weeks that they have reached out but were rebuffed. Who is telling the truth? We don’t know, and at this point we don’t care anymore.

We need both sides to come to the table and meet. It is in the best interest of everyone involved — the county, its taxpayers and the tribe and its members — to come to an agreement that avoids a lengthy legal battle.

Playing this out in court could be a gamble for everyone.