Because Roosevelt is no longer on the Ute reservation it must be treated the same as any other city by the State Tax Commission.
That means that Utah sales tax must be applied to every purchase no matter who makes it. But an attorney for the Tax Commission says it will still be a while before businesses in the city, nearby Duchesne and west Uintah counties will be told to begin charging sales tax to enrolled Ute Tribe members.Brian Tarbet, assistant Utah attorney general, says that a move to reinstate the sales tax in Roosevelt on Ute Tribe members would be pre-mature right now because boundary designations are pending throughout the county, and new litigation has been filed.
An injunction that had prohibited Roosevelt businesses from charging tribal members sales tax was lifted last month when a federal judge ruled the city was not part of the exterior boundaries of the Ute reservation. Tribal members have been tax exempt at businesses throughout Duchesne and western Uintah counties since a 1986 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which expanded the reservation's exterior boundaries.
Because of the recent ruling, tribe leaders have urged members to boycott Roosevelt merchants and to shop in Vernal - about 40 miles away.
Tarbet says the Tax Commission has taken "a very cautious attitude" when it comes to reinstating the sales tax because boundary maps which will categorize land in the two counties as Indian Country or homestead (off the reservation) must still be approved in court.
The divisions will create a complex checkerboard pattern, making it very possible that one business would hold tribal members tax exempt while a business just down the street would have to charge the tax. Just 1 percent of the 5.75 percent sales tax is returned to the area of origin, the state takes the remainder of the sales tax revenue.
Tarbet also says that because Duchesne and Uintah counties have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear the reservation boundary dispute the Tax Commission may hold out on making changes in Roosevelt until the litigation has run its course.
If the high court decides to take the case again, tribal attorney Robert Thompson has said the tribe will contest the non-reservation status of Roosevelt.
"Once this all boils away and we know where the boundaries are, what's Indian and what's non-Indian . . . we'll evaluate it very carefully because we don't want to do this two or three times," Tarbet explained. "In fairness to the merchants they need to know what's going on, the taxpayers need to know what's going on. It needs to be an educational process."
Tarbet says it's not just the issue of taxation that will be impacted once the boundary maps are drawn. On a county-wide basis issues such as hunting rights, water rights, tax implications and criminal jurisdiction also need to be addressed.
"We need to do this in concert and cooperation with the Indians and with all state agencies," he said.