Garfield County’s John Martin advances agenda as regional president of National Association of Counties
GARFIELD COUNTY — John Martin, chairman of the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, is moving forward with the National Association of Counties’ agenda since being installed as president of the Western Interstate Region of the association in May at a conference hosted by Coconino County in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Martin said he finds it an honor to represent the 15-state region, the agenda of which is consistent with his own deeply held beliefs concerning local government and public lands.
“First, I want to listen,” said Martin. “Then, I have direct goals to accomplish, centering on encouraging outside-of-the-box thinking on how the federal government views some specific national lands issues.”
Martin and the leaders in counties across the 15 states that make up Western Region — Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota — have some clout in discussions about federal lands, because 80 percent of the nation’s federal lands are located in the states. Only 15 percent of public lands are located in other regions across the continental United States, and 5 percent are in territories, such as Guam and Puerto Rico.
Martin seeks to bring greater scrutiny to two issues, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and access to public lands, specifically historical claims by local governments to roads within public lands.
PILT payments from the federal government to local governments help offset losses in property taxes associated with federal lands within the boundaries of the local government. Property taxes are the primary source of revenue for county governments. Federal lands are nontaxable, so PILT helps compensate local governments for the lost revenue. PILT is especially important to Garfield County, where two-thirds of the land is federally owned or managed.
Martin believes the Western Interstate Region can correct the main flaw in the PILT program: no permanent funding source to make PILT payments.
Martin proposed an amendment to the “Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF),” which would allow permanent funding for PILT. Funded by fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas, the LWCF is now used to acquire and preserve land, water, and easements within national parks, forests, and wilderness and wildlife areas. The amendment would add the word “maintenance” to the fund, “Land and Water Conservation and Maintenance Fund (LWCMF),” and expand the purposes of the fund to include PILT permanently.
“There is currently $14 billion or so in that fund,” Martin said. “The ‘maintenance’ term describes how the money would be used, to make permanent and mandatory the payments to counties and states for managing federal lands within their borders. And it would allow the continuation of purchasing conservation easements, as well as critical habitat for endangered species.”
“We’re making a good fund better,” Martin added, “and we’re going to stop the big problem we have now, wondering whether PILT is going to be reauthorized or not. That’s not right.”
Martin says this move would release $465 million of discretionary funding to counties, while not increasing taxes or affecting the federal budget.
Martin’s second proposal involves the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The proposal involves rights of way that were originally granted to the public by the Mining Law of 1866, and are commonly referred to as R.S. 2477 roads. Ownership of many of those grants has continued unresolved for up to 110 years, often involving lengthy and costly litigation. Under the legislation, Congress would establish a legislative policy and procedure to establish ownership of the R.S. 2477 roads efficiently and without litigation.
Martin will present these issues to the Western Region Executive Committee, scheduled to meet in Grand Junction in early October.
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