KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Two American Indian tribes with a city water tower on their land will be reimbursed some $19,000 from the city’s water fund due to a tax overpayment.

The tall, bulbous water tower sits near Interstate 5 and is on land owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and the Siletz tribe. The tower itself is exempt from property taxes because it is government-owned, but the land is taxable. The tribes granted an easement to the city for the tower, but would not sell the land.

The city actually only received about $3,000 of those dollars.

According to a memorandum from City Attorney Shannon Johnson, the Marion County Tax Assessor’s Office denotes government-owned property as exempt. But Steve Miner, commercial supervisor with the county’s tax office, said there was no way for his office to know there were exempt structures on taxable land.

“What apparently happened is that when the water tank was built in that first year, the city did not file for an exemption on it,” Miner said.

He compared it to a landlord who leases part of a building to a governmental entity.

“We wouldn’t necessarily even know about it, right?” Miner said. “It’s kind of up to them to come to us and say, as the landlord I leased to this organization.”

The two tribes apparently did not do this, Johnson said. A tax bill that was $19,598.63 higher for 2008 than the year prior also didn’t seem to initially alarm the landowners.

“When the tribes received the tax statement, instead of calling us immediately, the tribes paid the taxes and did not alert us for nearly a year and a half,” Johnson said.

An internal audit caught the discrepancy, he added, and the two tribes requested a $19,000 reimbursement from the city.

Johnson said there seems to be no way for the city or the tribes to recover the funds from Marion County.