- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

ACOMA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) - Acoma Pueblo has launched a legal fight, arguing that a more than century-old federal law prevents local and state officials from collecting property tax on tribally-owned land in New Mexico even if it’s located outside of the tribe’s recognized boundaries.

The tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court in Las Cruces earlier this month. New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla and Cibola County Treasurer Geraldine Rael are named as defendants.

Acoma received a notice in September that it owed more than $30,000 in back taxes on two parcels of commercial property in Cibola County. The state threatened to auction off the land if the bill wasn’t paid.

The tribe argues the county and state have no authority to collect taxes on the property, which was purchased in 2004. It points to a 1905 federal law, subsequent case law and previous decisions by county officials, saying the land is exempt from taxation.

“Defendants have continuously and repeatedly valued, assessed, taxed and enforced its taxes and therefore infringed on Acoma’s sovereignty and tribal sovereign immunity interests,” the lawsuit reads.

State taxation and revenue officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This is not the first time Acoma has fought efforts to tax its land. In 1937, a federal court ruled that fee lands owned by Acoma are not subject to taxation by the state or any of its subdivisions and ordered county officials at that time not to put any of the property owned by the pueblo on the county tax rolls. For the next several decades, the pueblo wasn’t taxed.

That changed in 2005 when the Cibola County assessor asserted the office had the authority to value and tax the land. The tribe protested and a settlement was eventually reached in 2010, with $54,000 in tax payments being returned to Acoma.

Despite the agreement, the tribe contends in its lawsuit that it was forced to protest the valuation of its land again in 2011 and for the last three years.


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