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7/26/2013 6:00:00 AM
AG: Tax refund bill targeting Mohave County not constitutional
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne
Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - A law ordering Mohave County to refund more than $454,000 in property taxes to a group of individuals involved in a federal land dispute is unconstitutional, according to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne.

However, the true fate of the law will have to be decided in court.

The Arizona Legislature passed House Bill 2178 in 2012. The bill ordered the county to refund 22 years of property taxes to 37 property owners near the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation who were involved in 1994 federal lawsuit.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors and Arizona Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu, protested the law at the beginning of the year, saying that the bill violated the Arizona Constitution.

"I knew from the moment I saw it that it was unconstitutional. I don't understand how it passed," said District 2 Supervisor Hildy Angius.

Horne ruled Tuesday that the law violated the state constitution's special law clause because the law benefited a specific group of people and could not be stretched to accommodate Arizona residents that might find themselves in similar situations.

"I believe the attorney general made the right decision and I thank Kelli Ward for taking this on," Angius said. "This would have set a horrible precedent and had dangerous ramifications for the whole state. And this county wasn't even going to fight it. $500,000 may not seem like a lot to some people, but it's still a lot to me."

Angius said she was told by some officials not to worry about the cost of the refund because the law required the state to give the county a credit. The actual law doesn't define what type of credit the county would get or how it would be paid.

"There was no appropriation attached to the bill. The county would have been left holding the bag," Angius said. "It was wrong."

Horne's decision does not end the issue. The law is still on the books until someone challenges it in court.

"We're working with our crack team of legal experts on this and plan to bring it up at our next Board meeting," Angius said.

HB 2178's existence centers around a 1994 lawsuit that dealt with a triangular-shaped piece of land located east of the Colorado River near the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. The federal government claimed the land was part of the reservation in 1883. The river shifted and in 1905, the land was granted to several property owners in Arizona. In 1987, the federal government tried to reclaim the land and sued for title of the land in 1994.

According to information provided in Horne's ruling, Mohave County allowed property owners involved in the lawsuit to defer paying taxes on the land between 1987 and 2009, although some people did pay property taxes during that time period.

When the landowners won their suit in 2009, the county sent out bills for the back taxes to the property owners.

The property owners protested to the Arizona Legislature, saying they were never told they would have to pay back taxes on property and it was unfair that they would be charged taxes for land they weren't able to use or sell.

In 2012, Rep. Jeff Dial, R- Chandler, proposed two bills, HB 2177 and HB 2178, as a fix for the property owners.

HB 2177 would have allowed all taxpayers involved in land dispute lawsuits that last more than a year to request a waiver of all property taxes on the disputed parcel for the duration of the lawsuit. HB 2177 was never submitted for a vote of the Legislature.

HB 2178 specifically addressed the Fort Mojave land. It ordered Mohave County to forgive any property taxes due on the 37 parcels from 1987 to 2009 and to refund any taxes paid during that period. Landowners had until Dec. 31, 2012 to submit a claim. The state would give Mohave County a credit toward the money it returned to the landowners. The bill passed and was signed into law in April 2012.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013
Article comment by: What a Bunch of Loosers - From County all the Way to the State House.

Thanks V. Strokes. Yea, he was a real winner when he was head of our education system. I taught school then in Kingman and often wondered whose back he scratched. He ran for some state office after education head and lost. I thought that was the end to that. However the good o' Republican clowns in power had to find something for him to do (he probably knows all the skeletons in their closet). So why not stick him in to be the state's head attorney.

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

Ms Angius,
Since the TV thing was brought up again, I'd like to weigh in on the subject.

Is it the job of government to provide entertainment, no. But the repeaters serve more than just that purpose. Weather alerts, LE usage, Emergency Broadcast System, etc. Not everyone can afford cable or satellite. It's not the Governments job to provide public transportation either, IMO...but it's done. Read the Preamble to the Constitution as well as the Taxing and Spending Clause.

Reduce the tax to an appropriate amount to pay for maintenance and possible repairs and use it only for those purposes, not to build a slush fund that gets swept every few years.

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013
Article comment by: the conservative

I happen to agree with your stance, entertainment is not now nor should it ever be the responsibility of the government. Also while I agree that tax exemptions cannot be granted in every case, there should be some rule that states land tied up by legal dispute by local or federal government should have an escrow for taxes that both parties fund and in the event that a party loses that escrow would fund the taxes and the other would be returned. Also to prevent the government from doing what it is widely known for, in the event that the government loses the case the damages should be not less than ten times the amount in escrow.

I use the term government, to indicate local, state and federal governments agents because to average people the government is all the same.

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013
Article comment by: Fashion Ista

I had a hard time getting past the photo. What's up with that hairdo? Comb over? comb up? Shave it all off, it's neater and it's sexy!

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013
Article comment by: Anson's Nephew

"He got elected how???"

He is a Republican - that's all it takes in Arizona.

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013
Article comment by: Just asking

Hildy, since you seem to like to be out in front of things, what are you and the BOS doing about jobs for the county?
We would ask Brotherton but we don't expect much from her and we're getting it.

Posted: Saturday, July 27, 2013
Article comment by: Financial Disconnect

Granted the TV Tax is too high and that is why it runs such a surplus that the BOS finds other places to spend the money. Why not bring the tax inline with the cost? And with all of this talk about whether the TV Tax district is worth while and the possibility of de-funding the translators there is no talk of eliminating the tax from our tax bills.

Posted: Saturday, July 27, 2013
Article comment by: Hildy Angius

for the record, My term began in January, I had less than nothing to do with the new buildings.
About the TV District: I believe we are being overtaxed, and I put the question out there there whether they believe it is the government's job to provide TV signals. If you don't believe it is, makes no difference if it costs a hundred dollars or a hundred million dollars. I received a lot of interesting feedback. I just asked the question. At the very least, I would like to make sure we are not overpaying for the upkeep and I want to make sure that the rate you pay is not more than what it actually costs. I believe that's my job.

Posted: Saturday, July 27, 2013
Article comment by: Hildy Angius

I want to make it clear that the landowners won the lawsuit. They wound up with the land. Some sold it at quite a large profit. There are many reasons why land is tied up and can't be used or sold for a period of time. If you start giving exemptions for that, county and municipal services could not survive. I look at this as a bad investment. The landowners were victims, basically twice, once by the Federal government who took the side of the Indian Tribe over the American landowners, and secondly by a misguided piece of legislation that gave them money that they never should have been promised to get. If the landowners wanted some compensation, they should have gone after the Federal government who put them in that predicament in the first place. The County had nothing to do with it. In fact, the County government worked very hard to accommodate the landowners as much as the law allowed.
I hope this clarifies some of the questions around this issue.

Posted: Saturday, July 27, 2013
Article comment by: Penny Wise Pound Foolish

Horn decrying something unconstitutional does not make it so. It merely will lead to more expenses in legal fees for his friends. Angius says that "$ 500,000 is a lot to me" and worries about $ 200,000 for free TV for thousands of County residents but finds it totally ok to spend millions on new buildings. Why? Friends? Politics?

Posted: Saturday, July 27, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

Wow....I was curious so I did some checking on the AG. I guess we don't really hear about it up here but this guy is quite a number. Office affair (alleged), SEC violations (banned for life from trading), campaign finance violations, 7 speeding tickets in 18 months while education Superintendent (once in a school zone), hit and run just recently.

He got elected how???

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

We have a attorney general with a shady past, banned from stock market due to some unethical, illegal activities under investigation last time I read on some campaign law violations! I do not know if he is right or wrong but is he not the one who defended SB 1070 and got his tail handed to him in defeat!

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013
Article comment by: the conservative

This bill may not be constitutional, but neither is forcing someone to pay taxes on property that was tied up in court. I wonder how many supporters of this think it would be okay if they had to pay taxes on something they couldn't sell or use?

Kill the bill, but also waive the taxes.

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013
Article comment by: What's up With That!?

What's funny is that all three State Legislators, Senator Gould, Reps McLian and Goodale all voted for the bill! Don't they read the bills before signing? Or is that a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours thing. Almost cost us a half million dollars. Thank you supervisors Watson, Sockwell and Johnson for being so attentive to this last year.

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013
Article comment by: Al DiCicco

Nice work Tom Horne Kelli Ward and Hildy Angius.

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