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Cass County Board: County joins Leech Lake tribe in seeking larger return of state tax revenue

BACKUS—Cass County Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk and Leech Lake Tribal Chair Faron Jackson testified before a state legislative committee March 11 in an effort to increase from 10 percent to 20 percent the share of tribal sales taxes paid to counties.

Gaalswyk reported to his fellow commissioners during the Tuesday, March 19, county board meeting about the legislative hearing.

The state collects a sales tax from sales made at Indian casinos on tribal lands. Under current law, only 10 percent of the money the state collects is paid back to the area from which it was collected as a way to offset costs incurred from having the casino.

As Gaalswyk noted in his testimony, the state sales tax "was intended to offset some of the costs to the state and local governments that are associated with supporting things such as increased law enforcement, roads, social services and other government-related activities that arise as the result of the impact of the casinos."

Only 50 percent of Cass County land is subject to property tax levy, because of the high volume of water and publicly owned land, much of which is owned by the state and federal government, Gaalswyk noted.

Cass County received $223,504 from this sales tax for its 10 percent share in 2017. Had the increase to 20 percent been in effect, the county would have received $447,008.

The $223,504 equals about 1 percent of Cass' local levy, Gaalswyk said, adding it means "real money to our rural county."

The bill to increase the county's share is about keeping locally generated money in the local area, Gaalswyk said.

"This bill would make it easier for Cass County to work with our tribal partners on things like our drug court, which puts offenders on a path to health, restoration and participation rather than keeping them on the road to incarceration, isolation and despair," Gaalswyk said. "This bill will make it easier for us to build on the promise we have made with the tribe to work together to make our communities stronger, healthier and more economically vibrant."

Gaalswyk added the Leech Lake Tribal Council and the Cass County Board of Commissioners represent the same people.

Rep. John Persell of Bemidji authored the bill.

Cass County Administrator Joshua Stevenson told the county board he believes this is the first time a county and a tribal representative have testified together on a shared issue at a legislative hearing.