Chickaloon tribe seeks broad tax exemptions on land

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2001

SUTTON (AP) -- The Chickaloon tribe is asking that it receive broad tax exemptions on land in exchange for bringing development to the Mat-Su Valley.

The tribe wants to log, build roads and maybe even start commercial greenhouses. Its pitch is simple: Give Chickaloon an exemption on its property taxes and the tribe will make those development plans happen in the Mat-Su. Deny the request and the tribe may take its business elsewhere, to land it owns in Kenai or in the Copper Basin.

Chickaloon tried to get a tax exemption in court, but lost. This time it is asking the borough, which is thinking over the proposal.

Chickaloon wants all tribal government land not used for commercial purposes exempted from property taxes. That amounts to just 100 acres now, but that could balloon to 70,000 acres if the tribe transferred land from its village corporation to the tribal government, which it has discussed doing.

Tribal officials argue their land should be exempted just like property held by the cities of Wasilla and Palmer because it provides many of the same types of government services.

Chickaloon spent more than $1 million last year on peace officers, a school, a health clinic and a transportation plan, tribal administrator Nick Begich said. Some of those services benefit only tribe members. Others are open to the public. But even the services not available to the general public reduce demands on the borough government, he said.

''We support not just our own folks, but the community at large,'' Begich told Mat-Su Borough Assembly members at a meeting earlier this month.

The tribe currently pays about $5,000 a year in taxes, according to borough records.

Under the tribe's request any commercial development, such as greenhouses, would be taxed. But other projects such as low-income housing and a job employment center would not. All would create jobs and bring in money, Begich said.

At least right now, the borough doesn't legally recognize Chickaloon as a government, Borough Manager John Duffy said.

The borough does exempt properties such as churches and schools, though on a case-by-case basis. Chickaloon wants a broad exemption, covering undeveloped lots and land it may purchase.

No other tribe has been granted such a deal, State Assessor Steve Van Sant said, although Native land is exempted from property taxes in other ways.

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