May 23, 2018
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Passamaquoddy Tribe disputes Washington County taxation

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — When members of the Washington County Budget Committee discovered Tuesday that five years of county tax revenue from Maine’s Passamaquoddy Tribe was held up in a dispute, they demanded answers.

The committee members were so upset that they planned to ask the county commissioners to suspend all services to tribal lands until the taxes are paid.

Although that could cause serious problems in Pleasant Point, it wouldn’t even be noticed at Indian Township, according to Indian Township Gov. William Nicholas.

Nicholas explained Tuesday afternoon that only Indian Township is questioning the taxes, but that members of the tribe from both there and Pleasant Point are acting as one under a joint tribal council decision.

At the township, the reservation supplies all fire, ambulance, police and emergency dispatching services, Nicholas said. “We provide for all our own interests,” he said. “Nothing is provided through the county.”

Nicholas said the taxes — a total of $27,000 for the past five years for both Indian Township and Pleasant Point — are being held up while the tribe waits for an explanation of what that money is for.

“What services are we getting for that money?” Nicholas asked. “That is what we want to know.”

The Pleasant Point reservation does use county services. All of its emergency dispatching for fire, police and ambulance is done through the Washington County Regional Communications Center in Machias. Statistics provided to the committee Tuesday by the dispatching center indicate that Pleasant Point is the second-highest user of the dispatch center, with 975 calls for service in just the last six months.

“They are clearly using the [regional communications center] on a higher level,” Calais Town Manager Diane Barnes said.

David Turner, a county budget committee member and Perry selectman, said he wants county commissioners to look into the legality of suspending services to the tribe immediately until the back taxes have been paid.

He also asked that the county commissioners check the valuation of the tribal lands and questioned why the county tax assessment for the tribe appeared so low.

“We pay $120,000 in county taxes a year in Perry,” he said. “$5,000 a year is really low.”

Nicholas said that taxes are based on state property valuation and that tribal lands are exempt from state property taxes.

County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald told the committee that the tribe is required by law to pay the taxes based on the state’s valuation and that a flurry of letters has gone back and forth between the county and the tribal leaders on the issue over the years.

“I have asked for documentation from the tribe that they don’t owe the taxes,” she said.

Nicholas said all other taxes — taxes to the state for sea lands and for Unorganized Territory — are paid in full by the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

Turner said at the budget meeting that if there are no consequences for failing to pay five years’ worth of county taxes, Perry should stop making its payments. Several other town officials agreed, while laughing at their own suggestion.

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