County seeks to audit PCI

Published 6:50 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Escambia County Tax Assessor Jim Hildreth plans to move ahead with an audit of Poarch Band of Creek Indians land in the county, according to a filing made with the Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

The county has been battling with PCI for several years, seeking to assess and tax PCI land by using a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case for its argument. In that case, Carcieri vs. Salazar, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not take land into trust from tribes that received federal recognition after 1934. PCI received its federal recognition in 1984, and the tribe’s land was taken into trust in 1985.

Previously, PCI has argued that the Carcieri decision applies only to pending trust land applications, and not those that have already taken place.

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In the court filing, state Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), who represents Escambia County as a private attorney, cites a recent federal court case to argue that the county has the right to assess PCI lands, including the Wind Creek Casino.

That federal case, Big Lagoon Rancheria vs. State of California, was decided on Jan. 21, when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 that property at the heart of the case did not constitute “Indian land” because the California tribe in the case had not been federally recognized by 1934.

“If the Poarch Band, like the Big Lagoon tribe, is not a tribe that was ‘under federal jurisdiction’ in 1934 … then the tax assessor has a clear legal duty to assess the property for taxation, and this state’s courts must be open for the judicial enforcement of such assessments,” Taylor wrote in the filing, according to a story in The Montgomery Advertiser.

Taylor also stated in the filing that Hildreth had notified PCI of his intention to audit the tribe “for the purpose of assessing all the real and personal property of the Poarch Band in Escambia County for escaped taxes for the years 2009 through 2013.”

Robert McGhee, the treasurer of the PCI Tribal Council and director of governmental relations for the tribe, said Tuesday afternoon that PCI’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

In 2012, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees trust land for the U.S. Department of the Interior, ruled that the PCI land in Escambia County constituted land in trust. The U.S. federal government has also filed a brief in support of PCI, stating that the statute of limitations for arguing trust cases has run out.

The federal government holds title over “land in trust,” but the tribe on that land has some control over use and improvements. Federally recognized tribes are considered sovereign nations, although they are still subject to some federal regulations.

Hildreth is not expected to run for re-election in 2014.
A message left for Taylor seeking additional comment was not immediately returned.