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California tribe sues county for unlawful tax

Members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are continuing to pursue litigation against the county where their reservation is located, arguing that the county is unlawfully imposing taxes on the tribe.

One of the big issues in this case is that the county is collecting taxes but may be diverting the funds to other areas, rather than spending it on the Coachella Valley where the tribal land is located. Instead, the tribe says that they wish to enforce their own tax code to collect funds to improve the local community, which is generally the purpose of property taxes in any municipality. The tribe’s position is supported by a recent ruling by the Department of the Interior that found that local governments cannot impose a possessory interest property tax on tribal lands.

This issue is complex, but the overall point that matters for California taxpayers if the fact that even though the law might be clear, sometimes taxing authorities still collect improperly. It’s easy to assume that if our local, state, of federal government says that we owe something that they are necessarily correct, but the truth is that these authorities can make mistakes or misinterpret the law just like any other branch of government. It is important to be diligent and aware of your rights if taxes seem too high or unusual. Consulting with a tax law specialist can help clarify these issues and make plans for the future to properly comply with tax laws while avoiding overpayment.

Source: Indian Country Today, “Tribe Files Lawsuit to End Illegal County Taxation in California,” Jan. 7, 2014. 

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