Garfield County will receive just over $3 million as part of the Department of the Interior’s $34.5 million payout to Colorado under the 2014 Farm Bill. That’s up more than $200,000 from last year and the second highest in the state, behind Mesa County.
The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal land within their boundaries. The $3,026,294 this year will go into Garfield County’s general fund, where it represents about 10 percent of the budget and will help support everything from the sheriff’s office to the clerk and recorder.
It hasn’t always been easy for the county to get its share. In 2012, it received only $403,176 for 1,186,992 acres of public land — roughly two-thirds of Garfield County’s total area. Eagle County, by contrast, received $2,094,020 for 849,970 acres. The difference was offset by Federal Mineral Lease (FML) payments, which the federal government is allowed to count toward the total. With the creation of the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District, FML money is distributed by the district, instead of the county. As such, those payments are no longer factored into PILT allotment.
County Manager Andrew Gorgey thinks that is the way it should be.
“We get PILT because we can’t tax. You get FML because of impacts from industry. They’re two different reasons,” he said.
Another challenge is the perennial uncertainty of federal funding. PILT has had difficulty finding a permanent home with any one bill, and each year counties are left guessing whether the funds will come through or not.
“We have to follow what’s going on in Congress and budget accordingly,” said Garfield County Finance Director Ann Driggers.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and fellow Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet have introduced legislation intended to find a more permanent funding source for the program.
“Our local leaders shouldn’t be forced into wondering from year to year if they will receive the payments the federal government owes them,” Bennet said.