Councilors resist land action
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
7/08/09 at 3:30 AM
Tulsa's City Council will consider a resolution that opposes granting more city land American Indian sovereignty because of the negative impact it would have on tax revenue.
A resolution is no more than the council stating its opinion on an issue.
Councilor Bill Christiansen said Tuesday that he will propose a vote on the resolution in light of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's efforts to have two parcels of land on the west and east side of the Arkansas River given federal trust status, which would exempt them from sales and property taxes.
The 25 acres on the west side of the river is targeted by the tribe for a shopping area, and the smaller parcel on the east side is used for parking across from the tribe's new River Spirit Casino.
Christiansen said that if the parcels are granted trust status from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, it will drain the city's already in- adequate financial resources.
"The citizens of Tulsa need to realize that every time land is taken from the city and put into a trust, property taxes will ultimately increase on their homes and the amount of sales tax collected to provide basic services will decrease," he said.
Christiansen said the situation could get out of control.
"It's scary to think that the tribe could go up and down the river and buy great, developable land and take it off the city's rolls," he said. "We cannot afford that as a city. We're already making service cuts and furloughing our employees."
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief A.D. Ellis released a prepared statement in response.
"I totally understand the city of Tulsa's interest in preserving their tax revenue," he said. "I also understand my responsibility as tribal leader to improve our revenue source and land ownership. Thankfully the federal government has provided a way for land to be held in trust for federally recognized tribes."
During a committee meeting, councilors said they need to discuss with tribal officials the financial harm this could do to the city.
"I believe there have been other agreements or pacts made between tribes and taxing entities elsewhere to lessen the impact, and we need to look at what's been done to come up with a solution," Christiansen said.
Councilor Dennis Troyer said it's not just the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the river property that the city has to worry about. Other tribes with presences around Tulsa could do the same thing.
Councilor Rick Westcott said it's a difficult problem — one in which the council must make its voice heard.
"I have nothing against the Creek Nation, and I support development along the west bank of river," he said. "But it needs to be done in partnership with the city of Tulsa and the citizens. We need to see some of the benefit."
Earlier this year, Mayor Kathy Taylor sent a letter to the BIA opposing trust status for the west bank property, and she is drafting one with the same sentiments for the land on the east side of the river.
Brian Barber 581-8322