Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians seeks to stop Riverside County tax

Tribe says taxes are not being collected for benefit of tribe or valley communities

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is suing  Riverside County to stop it from assessing taxes that the tribe argues are not being collected for the benefit of the reservation or surrounding communities.

   The Palm Springs-based tribe's suit, filed in U.S. District Court, names the county, Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Larry Ward, Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo and Treasurer-Tax Collector Don Kent as defendants.

   According to a statement released Monday, the suit filed Jan. 2, seeks to bar the county from imposing possessory interest taxes on tribal members.

   ``Riverside County uses the money collected on the reservation to benefit people living in other cities and areas far away from where the taxes  are collected,'' said tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe. ``The tribe's desire is  to keep tax money within our community to service the Coachella Valley.''

   According to tribe members, the suit relies on a recent U.S. Department of Interior finding that a possessory interest tax imposed by local governments infringes on tribal sovereignty.

   ``The county is properly adhering to the law regarding possessory interest tax, an issue that has been upheld previously by the courts,'' Executive Office spokesman Ray Smith told City News Service in response. . 

   County officials provided information on the nature and origin of possessory interest taxes, which are derived from the California Revenue and Taxation Code, specifically section 107.

   According to the assessor-clerk-recorder's office, a possessory interest can be any private party benefiting from the use of property owned by the  county. The benefit must be exclusive -- enjoyed primarily by the party, not  the public at large -- and can include campgrounds, golf courses, airplane  hangars, restaurants, stores, homes, apartments and easements in general.

   The assessor's office said the possessory interest often takes the form of a lease.

   County Executive Office spokesman Ray Smith said revenue is used in support of schools, special districts, libraries, public safety, public transportation, water and sewer infrastructure.

   According to the tribe, it has established a possessory interest tax  designed strictly for the reservation. Tribal officials said that if they prevail in their suit against the county, the new tax will be put into effect ``prospectively,'' not retroactively.

   ``The tribe remains committed to working collaboratively with all of our neighbors, including Riverside County, now and while the lawsuit is pending,  to find the best path forward,'' Grubbe said.

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