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County tax assessor responds to PCI suit

Spencer Bachus, an attorney for Escambia County Tax Assessor Jim Hildreth, released a statement Wednesday in response to the notice of a lawsuit filed against Hildreth by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The statement reads:

“We just received notice of the lawsuit and will thoroughly review it. In general, the Poarch Band has asked a federal court for a judicial exemption from local property taxes on certain land and business property, including casino property.

“Local property taxes go to schools, hospitals, road and bridge infrastructure, and other vital county services.

“The Poarch Band’s lawsuit comes as a complete surprise: It appears the suit was actually filed yesterday, even while attorneys for the Poarch Band were coordinating with Mr. Hildreth and his attorneys to open up conversations aimed at reaching an amicable resolution without litigation.

“Apparently, without explanation, the tribe chose to file a lawsuit rather than sit down and talk.

“Mr. Hildreth’s statutory and constitutional duty is to assess all property in the county fairly and equally, without prejudice. There is a process available to every taxpayer to contest a tax assessment or assert a tax exemption. Unlike other taxpayers who dispute their assessments, the Poarch Band has never engaged in that process with respect to the land at issue and has decided to file this lawsuit instead.

“Mr. Hildreth understands his official legal duties. In light of recent court rulings, Mr. Hildreth must treat the Poarch Band no differently than any other taxpayer, unless and until a court instructs him otherwise. Therefore, Jim welcomes the opportunity to let the courts decide whether to grant the Poarch Band an exemption from these property taxes.”