The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is suing an Alabama Tax Assessor for trying to levy millions of dollars of taxes on tribal property. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama on May 26th to stop Escambria County Tax Assessor James H. Hildreth, Jr. from assessing any taxes on reservation land or structures including Wind Creek Casino Atmore, now or in the future. The tribe contends that 200+ acres of land in the county are held in trust by the federal government and not subject to taxation by the county or state.
The tribe’s position is not without precedence, the Seminole Tribe in Florida convinced Federal Judge Robert Scola last year to strike down two taxes by the state there. The judge wrote in his decision that, “A state may not directly tax an Indian tribe on an Indian reservation unless a federal statute expressly permits the tax.”
The Tax Assessor informed the Poarch Band in January last year that he was initiating an audit on their property. The tribe responded with a list of property in the county but did not include land or property held in trust. The Assessor responded saying the list was “incomplete and non-responsive” and that the audit would proceed, with the addition of penalties and fees.
In April 2014 the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama delivered an opinion affirming the Tribe’s assertions that the lands are held in trust by the federal government. 11 months later Assessor Hildreth issued a letter stating that his office had completed their appraisal and he was ready to issue an assessment. In an early April meeting between the tribe and Hildreth this year the tribe learned that he was intent on levying taxes and penalties against the tribe’s lands in trust.
Hildreth contends that the tribe owes more than $22 million in state and county taxes for their Wind Creek Casino and Hotel along with over $1 million for other reservation properties. According to the audit the casino, hotel, and entertainment center have a value of $289.7 million.