Swain County, 86 percent of which is already owned by the federal government, lost a little more land from its tax rolls this month when commissioners voted to transfer 621 acres of land to become part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian reservation.
The tribe has owned three parcels of land — located in the Cooper’s Creek area, Kituwah, and Governor’s Island —for seven years. The tribe paid $11,500 a year in property taxes to Swain County for the tracts.
But after owning the land for the required amount of time, the tribe was legally able to petition for the land to become part of the Qualla Boundary. That way, it won’t be subject to property taxes.
Swain County is operating under a tight budget, and losing the property tax base will be a small blow, to say the least. But the Cherokee plan to build affordable housing and a mental health center on the parcels — things that could benefit those who live and work in Swain County. Commissioners weighed their options, and decided it would be easier to support the Eastern Band’s proposal.
“If the tribe were going to use the property for something controversial like gaming, we would say that we wouldn’t necessarily like that,” said County Manager Kevin King. “Yes, the county could fight it, but in the end, if they can demonstrate the need for it, you’re never going to win.”
King also said the commissioners wanted to keep the tribe and county on good terms.
“We have a really good relationship with the tribe, and we want to continue it,” King said.
Receiving the support of Swain commissioners was a final step in the process of placing the land into the Eastern Band trust. Now, the tribe is waiting for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to give final approval to the move.
Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks praised the commissioners for their support.
“Us mountain folk here in Western North Carolina, we know we have to work together to accomplish things for the people of our tribe and our communities,” Hicks said.