Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Federal government distributes PILT funds

Blaine County receives $1 million for federal land holdings

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County will receive a little over $1 million of the $232 million distributed nationwide by the federal government in its Payments in Lieu of Taxes program this year. The money is paid to counties that include federal land as compensation for forgone property-tax revenue.

The announcement was made by Secretary of the Interior and former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne on Friday, June 15.

The money is distributed to about 1,850 local governments throughout the country whose jurisdictions contain tax-exempt federal lands. Idaho received almost $16.3 million. Blaine County was the state's third highest recipient.

"This year's appropriation was able to maintain the level of PILT funding achieved last year, the highest funding level in history," Kempthorne said. "We are getting these funds to local governments in a timely manner, by June 15, to help the counties plan their annual budgets.

"We recognize the importance of these communities in helping to support federal lands, and this money will help pay for essential services, such as firefighting and emergency response and to help improve school, water and road systems."


The Interior Department collects about $4 billion annually in revenues from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting. A portion of the revenue goes to states and counties in the form of revenue-sharing payments. The balance is deposited in the U.S. Treasury, which in turn pays for a broad array of federal activities, including PILT funding.

Of the $232.5 million appropriated for PILT in the 2007 fiscal year, $232.1 million has gone for payments to counties and other local governments.

Created in 1976, the program makes annual payments based on the number of acres of federal entitlement land within each county or jurisdiction and its population. The lands include those managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.

But the funding formula favors counties with higher populations and for years was only funded about two-thirds the level allowed by law.

Because the payments are made based on an equation that includes not only federal land acreage, but also population and other sources of federal funding, counties that are relatively dominated by federal land can receive considerably less than others.

This year's PILT payment to Custer County, in central Idaho's Salmon River country, is $394,676, compared with well-to-do Blaine County's $1.06 million. Custer County covers an area of nearly 3 million acres but has only about 4,300 residents. Most of the land, 96 percent, is owned by the federal government, and that is why proposals such as Republican Congressman Mike Simpson's to give federal land to the county as part of a large omnibus wilderness and economic development bill are palatable to some. More private land would give the county an ongoing, more consistent revenue stream in the form of property taxes.

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