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DWA asks to meet with Agua Caliente on tax issue

November 21st, 2013 | by Barrett Newkirk | Comments
A sign advertises tribal land for lease in Palm Springs. Crystal Chatham/The Desert Sun

A sign advertises tribal land for lease in Palm Springs. Crystal Chatham/The Desert Sun

Desert Water Agency wants to meet with leaders from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to discuss the water agency’s lawsuit against the U.S. Interior Department, a case that involves taxing private developments on Indian land.

DWA’s board voted in closed session Tuesday to have President Pat Oygar contact Agua Caliente Chairman Jeff Grubbe to see if he or his representative was open to speaking with a DWA attorney about the lawsuit, DWA spokeswoman Katie Ruark said Thursday. Ruark said the call had been made but she didn’t know whether a response had come from the tribe.

The lawsuit, filed in March, deals with new federal regulations over taxes and fees paid by leaseholders on tribal land. DWA worries the regulations could cost it $7 million a year and is asking a judge to weigh in.

The Desert Sun reported in October that the regulations could cut $29 million collected through what’s called a “possessory interest tax” and distributed to local schools, cities and other government districts. Other types of taxes could also be affected.

A spokeswoman for the Agua Caliente did not return requests for comment late Thursday. Ruark said the motion passed DWA’s board 3-1, with Joseph Stuart dissenting. James Cioffi was absent from the meeting. Because the decision came in a closed session, Ruark said neither she nor board members could offer further comments.

While Agua Caliente isn’t named in DWA’s lawsuit against the Interior Department, the tribe has sued DWA and the Coachella Valley Water District claiming poor management of the valley’s water supply.

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