McInnis to Congress: Stop jilting counties on PILT
U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, has introduced legislation to fully fund a federal government program that last year put $1.1 million into Garfield County’s coffers.
The program, payment in lieu of taxes (PILT), reimburses counties that are impacted by tax-exempt federal lands administered by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other agencies, said a press release from McInnis
“The PILT program definitely helps the county,” said Garfield County Finance Director Jesse Smith. “Our tax base is not that large.”
Smith said the county budgets for PILT money each year, but never knows how much it will receive until it gets the money.
“Last year we got more than we budgeted for,” Smith said.
This year’s $42.8 million general operations budget calls for $825,000 in PILT funds.
Smith said PILT funds are usually used for the county’s operating fund, including the road and bridge department, but can also be used for capital expenditures.
McInnis said that since the PILT program inception in 1976, Congress has not fully funded the program.
“You couldn’t say Congress totally broke its promise, but there is no question we’ve been fudging big time,” McInnis said. “In the fiscal year 2002, for example, Congress shortchanged PILT by about $140 million.”
McInnis’ legislation is H.R. 1811, which he presented last week to a joint hearing of the Forests, National Parks and Fisheries Subcommittee.
McInnis’ 3rd Congressional District covers 36 counties, nearly all of which contain public lands. Federal lands, including the White River National Forest and BLM land, cover approximately 60 percent of Garfield County.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Don Davis testified at the bill’s hearing, and said PILT payments are “crucial” to counties, in part because they provide services for the users of public lands.
“These local services include law enforcement, search and rescue, firefighting, health care, solid waste disposal, local recreation programs, road and bridge maintenance, and more,” Davis said. “There are more than 1,900 counties nationwide that are eligible to receive PILT.”
McInnis’ bill also addresses funding shortfalls in the Refuge Revenue Sharing Fund, which provides reimbursements to localities for federal wildlife refuges.
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