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Suquamish trust controversy heating up

The issue of returning the Suquamish Casino’s land to trust was a major topic at the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Monday, even though the topic was not on the agenda.

Representatives of the tribe, along with those vehemently opposed to the action — which would take the casino off of the local tax rolls — presented their opinions during the public comment of the regular meeting.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled on Jan. 18 that the 12.72 acres around the popular casino would enter into trust, providing a 30-day comment period before the action is ratified.

“Whatever they ask for is not nearly enough,” said Constance Maytum of Port Orchard. “Native American trust has been violated. They need to be able to rebuild their communities and get back what was stolen from them.”

“Payments in lieu of taxes that are optional and selective do not cut the mustard,” said Buz Whiteley of Suquamish in a written statement. “This is not an option available to the taxpayers and constitutes unequal treatment under the law. If you accept that type of program, you will be nothing more than beggars pleading for alms.”

The board listened to all the input but did not make any comments or take action. While the matter is now on the front burner, it is possible the county will attempt to implement an agreement without taking the matter to court.

“A lot of municipalities that are fighting the BIA are just pouring money down a rathole,” North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen said shortly after the meeting. “They are all losing their cases. I don’t want to take any action before talking to the tribe.”

Added South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, “The BIA doesn’t give a rip what local communities think.”

Tribe spokesman Scott Crowell pointed to a considerable contribution to the local community, saying this would continue if the land went back into trust. Crowell said the tribe would consider making a yearly commitment, a payment in lieu of taxes, that could be a substantial amount.

“We are willing to discuss any number of options,” he said. “We can find a happy medium.”

County Assessor Jim Avery said the 2004 tax bill was $440,000 and projected a $458,000 tab for 2005. If the land enters trust by the end of February as expected the county would collect a pro-rated amount.

Crowell said that Bangor and Keyport do not pay property taxes to the county, that the tribe deserved the same consideration.

The deadline for action — or the lack thereof — is Feb. 17.

“Everyone tries to pay as little taxes as they can,” said Ron Ross of Silverdale. “There are all kinds of provisions that people can apply for. I don’t think this is a big enough issue that we should be squabbling over. The tribe is taking advantage of an opportunity, and they are smart to do so.”

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