Tribal lands discussed at town hall meeting
William Gollnick, former Oneida senior administrator, speaks at the town hall meeting with Aaron Kramer, Hobart village administrator looking on. Ben Rodgers Photo
By Ben Rodgers
HOBART – The village of Hobart discussed tribal lands within village boundaries at a town hall meeting on Thursday, June 7, at Hillcrest Elementary School.
Close to 100 people attended the meeting hosted by the village that was intended to update residents on the state of affairs in Hobart.
Village Attorney Frank Kowalkowski gave a breakdown of the different types of land that can be held by the Oneida Nation and the impact that can have on municipal property tax collection.
Land held in trust by the village is not taxable, while land owned in fee is, Kowalkowski said.
“There is a loss, a significant loss of local jurisdiction over that land,” he said of land held in trust.
No municipal ordinances apply to land in trust, while for land in fee the ordinances would apply.
The federal government and the tribe, not the local municipality, have jurisdiction over land in trust.
“To help curb that loss of jurisdiction and tax base, the village did end up drafting some restrictive covenants,” Kowalkowski said.
These convents are similar to that a developer would put in place when creating a subdivision, except in Hobart there is one primary purpose.
“It restricts whoever owns the land from doing anything that would remove or eliminate the land from the tax rolls of the village,” Kowalkowski said.
In essence, Hobart wants to maintain as much jurisdiction and tax value for properties within the village boundaries as possible.
“The tribe has, and has continued, to put fee land into trust thereby losing local jurisdiction and tax base…” Kowalkowski said. “The village has taken a position of opposing fee-to-trust applications.”
Hobart and the Oneida Tribe previously had a service agreement to cover the cost of any services the village would provide to the tribe, or vice versa, said Rich Heidel, village president.
“We on the village side of the table had a problem with also being precluded from opposing any land going into federal trust, and the tribe from their side of the table did not agree with our position, so that essentially was the end,” Heidel said. “That three-year service agreement died a mutual death. It was not renewed and the village of Hobart has not had one since.”
Elaine Willman, the village’s tribal consultant, also spoke at the meeting. Willman said she is 30 percent Cherokee, and while she values her heritage, she also values local governments.
“Some of my closest friends are enrolled Oneida and it’s really, really important. One drove me up to the meeting tonight and I’m staying with another. But I’m called a racist; I’m called a lot of things. I’m called Nazi, ask me if I care, I really don’t,” Willman said. “It’s really, really important to understand the division I have to make in my heart, then I have to make on paper when communicating.”
Willman worked for the village for eight years and spearheaded the Centennial Centre development.
She said the village has created two tax increment financing districts to consolidate growth and taxable value on the north and south ends of Hobart, as roughly one-third of the village is now either tribal land held in trust or fee.
“Since 2009 no further land has come off the tax rolls, yet, not that it won’t, and it could very soon, but that’s where we’re at today,” Willman said.
Willman, who has been on 17 reservations and lives on one now, said the quality of life on some is deteriorating because tribes have focused funds on obtaining more land and fighting legal battles, rather than providing for tribe members.
“That’s the game, and the casino money and the radical politics and the control of our elected officials is one of the reasons why,” she said.
William Gollnick, a former Oneida senior administrator, spoke after the presentation from village officials and said the land was intended for the Oneidas.
“When we look at the map that says how much Oneida-owned land there is, when we talk about when the Oneidas came here, they owned all this land,” Gollnick said. “This was their home. This was their place to be.”
He said this was the same discussion seven years ago the last time Hobart held a town hall.
“Looking at this from the tribal perspective, there were so many opportunities we had to work collaboratively, to abolish costs, to do things together, but instead we got into a situation where we had to play back and forth, and it’s cowboys and Indians,” Gollnick said “The reality is that hurts all of us. I’m so disappointed to come back and hear we’re having the same discussion seven years later.”