County wants meeting with PCI

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In an effort to find a resolution to a conflict about taxation, the Escambia County Commission agreed Monday to extend a formal invitation to officials with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for a meeting to discuss options.
The decision was made as a response to a letter of opinion from the U.S. Department of the Interior on where the county stands on collecting taxes from business and land owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Commissioner David Quarker, who serves the district where the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel are located, said the answer from Interior Department was vague at best.
“The answer we received really didn’t answer our questions, but we need to accept that for the time being,” Quarker said Monday. “I have had a conversation with Arthur Mothershed (of PCI), and he is willing to sit down and see if we can establish communications with respect to working things out with PCI. It’s important that we do this. We need to step back and sit down with PCI and come up with a resolution to this issue.”
Members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians had previously said they are willing to have a discussion with county officials regarding the ability of the county to collect taxes from PCI interests including the casino, hotel, convenience store and other retail and private businesses and property.
In the meantime, Quarker suggested the county does not currently need to work with Bryan Taylor, a Montgomery attorney and former adviser to Gov. Bob Riley’s advisory panel, who had been hired as the county’s legal adviser for the process, although commissioners did not take any formal vote on that issue.
“Mr. Taylor was hired because we had some legal issue we could not answer ourselves,” Quarker said. “He is not on payroll for the county. He assisted us with some issues, but I don’t think we need his services right now.”
Commissioner Larry White suggested that some issues have been a misunderstanding between the two governmental bodies.
“It has been said that we have made no efforts to reach out to PCI and that’s not the case,” White said. “We tried to establish a dialogue with them long before we took any steps in this matter. When PCI suggested taking in an additional 5,000 acres into trust, there was no communication from them with the county or the city on that plan. I suggest we send an official invitation requesting a meeting concerning these issues. This is our first option and I suggest that’s what we do.”
Chairman David Stokes said the issues being faced by both governmental bodies came up when PCI officials requested to add thousands of acres to their lands already held in trust.
“When they said they wanted to put 5,000 more acres into trust, I saw that as a threat to this county’s tax revenue,” Stokes said. “Tax revenue is the largest source of revenue for this county. Taking that land into trust would remove it from our taxable jurisdiction. We expressed we were opposed to that.”
Stokes said the issue, from the beginning, was the question about whether PCI could take in those additional acres — and take tax dollars from the county.
“If that is allowed to happen, PCI could take unlimited amounts of land into trust and that’s what I’m concerned about,” Stokes said. “We have a lot of things to work out and it’s going to take some time. I’ve ready to give it the time it takes. I represent Escambia County and will do that until I no longer occupy this seat.”
Commissioner Brandon Smith said the issues being addressed since April have created some tense times between PCI and Escambia County.
“There has been some bad blood between us and this is not going to be an overnight fix,” Smith said. “I think this is a good starting point.”
Quarker said the commission is ready to move forward and create a better environment for business between Escambia County and PCI.
“A picture has been painted that we are the devil coming out of the bowels of hell in this situation,” Quarker said. “That’s not the case. We want to come up with a plan with PCI to better this county. We want them to grow and we want the county to grow right along with them.”