2017-10-12 / Voices

Bennett County Commissioners Resolution: Part 5


The news from CAIRNS this week continues an indepth examination of the wording of Resolution #5- 2016, which is an effort by the Bennett County Commissioners to secure federal funding “in lieu of property taxes on Indian trust lands.” Last week, paragraphs 7-10 of the resolution were covered. This week begins with the eleventh paragraph:

“Whereas: A Supreme Court ruling in 1831 (Cherokee Nation versus Georgia) determined that the federal government is responsible for all Indian peoples wants and needs; and”

This is a false statement. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Cherokee Nation v Georgia was that American Indian tribes are not “foreign nations” under U.S. law. Instead, they are “domestic dependent nations.” The case had absolutely nothing to do with the federal government being responsible for the wants and needs of Indian peoples. But the untruthful claim that the federal government is responsible for every want and need of American Indians is critical to the resolution’s argument.

The twelfth paragraph contains three points that will be examined separately. The paragraph states:

“Whereas: The population of Bennett County is 3,431 and approximately one-half of the county’s population is Native Americans. Only 853 citizens of Bennett County are private land owners and pay local property taxes. The burden on these tax payers is disproportionate, inequitable and overwhelming; and”

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Bennett County was 3, 431. Of these persons, 1,157 were White and 2,109 were American Indian and Alaska Native. Therefore, Whites were 34% of the population whereas American Indians were 61%. Yet there is not one county commissioner who is American Indian. In the summer of 2016, the lone American Indian commissioner died in office. The other commissioners then selected a person to complete their colleague’s term. They selected another White person. The result is that the commission was and is today 100% White.

The second assertion in the paragraph is that there are 853 property tax payers in the county. But it is not clear where this number comes from. The commissioners hired a consultant to compile “Bennett County Facts” in August of 2013, and that report states that “close to 900 assessment notices are sent out to taxpaying entities,” and that “an entity may be one person, a couple, or several who have formed a family enterprise, a partnership, or corporation.” This suggests that there are over 900 persons affiliated with the assessment notices. Interestingly, the owner of the most fee patent land in the county is Turner Enterprises, a private company that is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

The third assertion in the paragraph is that the burden on these tax payers is “disproportionate, inequitable and overwhelming.” The assertion is false on all three counts. Property taxes are assessed by acre. Therefore, by definition, they are proportionate: the more acres a person owns, the more taxes she or he pays. Similarly, the resolution provides no evidence that the taxes are inequitable. The fact is that the taxes are assessed equitably, with no discrimination based on place of residency, ancestry, or any other characteristic of the land owners. And finally, the resolution provides no evidence that the tax burden on land owners is overwhelming. According to “Bennett County Facts,” the total taxed acres in 2013 was 554,146 acres. The “Annual Budget” for 2013 certified that $1,377,597 was generated by property taxes. Therefore, the property taxes averaged $2.49 per acre. It is absurd to assert that this amount is overwhelming.

Why is the resolution riddled with inaccuracies and false statements? In the next installment of this series, we will continue examining the resolution to answer this and other questions.

*The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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