District court judge dismisses Lake County’s lawsuit over property tax
POLSON – A substitute district court judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by Lake County in an attempt to force the Montana Department of Revenue to send a property tax bill to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for the former Kerr Dam.
Blair Jones, 22nd District Court judge in Columbus, issued his decision on Jan. 23. Lake County had challenged that the Se’liš Ksanka Qĺispe’ was tribal trust property. The county believes the property is “held in fee” by the Tribes due to the history of the property and the deed language used to transfer the land. CSKT took over operation of the dam on Sept. 5, 2015, from NorthWestern Energy.
However, Jones said the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the issue of whether the property is held in trust by the U.S. government for the benefit of the Tribes. He added that Lake County cannot establish that the Department of Revenue failed to perform a clear legal duty.
On Wednesday, Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher said that he and the county commissioners were “still evaluating how we’re going to proceed.” He said their options include appealing Jones’ decision to the Montana Supreme Court or filing a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
Eschenbacher has said that the county’s portion of the property tax revenue from the SKQ Dam is about $800,000, which does not include taxes for other entities, such as school, fire, cemetery and library districts, for example.