The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners passed what County Attorney Todd Starr termed a “historic agreement for Archuleta County” Tuesday afternoon.
The agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Archuleta County and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, defines how the Tribe’s fee-owned property located in the Archuleta County portion of the Southern Ute reservation will be taxed.
But, beyond that, Starr and the BoCC expressed that the agreement helped create a relationship between Archuleta County and the Tribe.
“This had very little to do with words set on paper,” Starr said in presenting the MoU, adding it was “more to do with opening a relationship.”
Commissioner Steve Wadley echoed Starr’s sentiments, noting that it was important to acknowledge and foster the relationship between the two entities.
“This agreement has been a long time in the works,” said Commissioner Clifford Lucero, adding he thought the agreement would benefit both entities in a number of ways, but he too focused on the relationship.
Lucero’s comments were further developed in a joint press release from Archuleta County and the Southern Ute Tribe.
“This agreement is the result of renewed and improved communications between the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Archuleta County,” Lucero said in the press release. “The challenges presented by the checkerboard nature of the tribal lands can be conquered through communication. With good old fashioned hard work and a constructive, communicative relationship, the challenges of tomorrow, for all our people, can be overcome.”
Tribal Chairwoman Pearl Cassias is similarly quoted in the press release discussing the need for communication and a strong working relationship between the two entities due to the economic development activity of the Tribe expanding into tribal land within Archuleta County.
“Indian and non-Indian interests in the Reservation land base are intricately interwoven due in large part to the checkerboard of land ownership on the Reservation,” Cassias said.
“The checkerboard of land ownership on the Reservation can create jurisdictional issues which, without good communication, can lead to conflict. Through this agreement, a conflict regarding taxation is avoided,” Cassias continued. “Our hope is that this agreement will help establish a long-term, government-to-government planning and regulatory relationship between the Tribe and County.”
The Southern Ute Tribal Council signed the agreement Monday afternoon in Ignacio with the BoCC in attendance, and the BoCC followed suit in a special meeting Tuesday.
The agreement is modeled after a similar agreement between the Southern Utes and La Plata County from 1996 and pertains to the approximately one-third of the Tribe’s 700,000 acres in Colorado that lie within Archuleta County.
According to the joint press release, “All of the Tribe’s on-Reservation property interests, including both land held in trust status by the United States and land owned by the Tribe in its own name (fee-owned land), as well as the Tribe’s proportionate ownership interest in on-Reservation property owned by tribal partnerships and joint ventures, are recognized as exempt from taxation.”
Through the document, however, the Tribe agrees to a payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) for real property interests owned by the Tribe in fee status (lands not owned in trust by the U.S.) — lands that, if not owned by the Tribe, would be subject to taxes.
The amount of the PILT is the non-public school share of Archuleta County’s annual tax assessment and the portion of property taxes attributable to public school bonded indebtedness— about one-third of what taxes on the property would be if not owned by the Tribe.
“Though the Tribe’s PILT and the State’s school funding equalization, it is expected that the County and school district will be kept whole,” the press release states.
In the agreement, the Tribe can protest the valuation assessment of the property, justifying the protest with information, for example, of actual production and sale of oil and gas or coalbed methane that would affect property value.
If the dispute cannot be settled by the two entities, a qualified third party chosen by both entities will resolve the issue.
The MoU also sets forth procedure for Archuleta County employees to access tribal lands for official purposes.
The agreement will continue in perpetuity unless one year’s written notice is given by either entity.