COEUR d'ALENE - The dispute is over 142.6 acres in Kootenai County on the Coeur d'Alene Tribe Reservation.
More precisely, it's over the property taxes - around $9,900 per year - that land generates.
Kootenai County doesn't want to lose that annual allotment should the land go into trust - essentially when it's taken off the tax rolls and given to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.
The Tribe is upset the county would put up such a fight. They said the property taxes pale in comparison to the amounts it donates annually around the county.
"I think, for us, it's distasteful at best," said Helo Hancock, Tribe legislative director. "It's land we paid top dollar to get back and in a lot of ways it's degrading."
But the Kootenai County commissioners don't want the land to go.
They recently appealed a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs that would have allowed it to go into trust.
Losing tax revenues is always tough, said Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie, especially when state and local coffers are shrinking.
"It's always a concern," Currie said of the potential loss and county appeal. "We're in that process (of appealing and) we're going to sit down with the Tribe and discuss it."
Tribe Chairman Chief Allan said on Wednesday he hoped a resolution could be reached. If not, he said the Tribe could look past Kootenai County when it gifts millions of dollars every year.
"Should our money go elsewhere?" Allan said Wednesday during a meeting between Tribe and city of Coeur d'Alene officials. "That's kind of where we're at."
Putting a land into trust is a method tribes use to recover native lands they have lost.
Before 1934, the federal government allowed homesteading without Indian permission on the reservation, which cost tribes their property. In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which transferred any remaining lands to Indian ownership. Now, when tribes buy pieces of those lands back, they can put them into trust and off the tax rolls.
That's what happened to the land in question. It's called the 'Ramsey Property' and sits in the north section of the county on the reservation. The Tribe, which owns around 18 percent of the land on the reservation, bought it back around 10 years ago. Before applying for trust status, the land was in fee status, meaning the Tribe paid taxes. In 2006 they applied for trust. That was recently approved but, unbeknownst to the Tribe until a month ago, prompted the commissioners' appeal.
The Tribe called the appeal "disturbing" in a June 18 letter to the commissioners, leading them to believe the county "either does not appreciate or does not believe that the Tribe is doing its fair share for the community to offset the loss."
The letter points to millions of dollars the Tribe annually donates to services inside the county, including $1 million to schools, $1.1 million for Citylink, the county's free public transportation provider, and $2.9 million on road and transportation related projects around the reservation among other civic donations in 2009 alone.
It's also in discussions with the county to help locate a dump site in Worley.
That could fill the void from the lost $9,900 each year on the property, Hancock said. It would be the first land to go into trust on the reservation in 30 years, and there are federal programs for local governments to receive money to offset those lost revenues, he said.
Currie didn't comment on whether the county would withdraw the appeal, but said the next step is to meet with Tribe officials. A time for that meeting hasn't been established.
"The sooner we can sit down and talk, the better," Currie said. He said he has heard concerns and feedback from various members of the community since the appeal.
City Councilman Mike Kennedy, who attended Wednesday's meeting with Allan, said the city of Coeur d'Alene would be interested in drafting a letter to the commissioners in support for withdrawing the appeal.
"We will do what we can to help," Mayor Sandi Bloem added. "We understand how much you are investing - and that's a good word, investing - in our communities."