Wednesday, June 27, 2012

County receives $1.8M in federal PILT funds

Future of program still uncertain

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County received more than $1.8 million in federal funding last week as part of the government's payment in lieu of taxes program, but could lose that funding next year if a program extension is not approved this year.

Each year, Blaine County receives some $1.75 million in funding from the program, more commonly known as PILT. The funds are give to Blaine County and other counties across the nation as compensation for county governments' not being able to collect property taxes on federal land. The program was originally funded by proceeds from harvesting timber on federal lands, and proceeds generally go to subsidize public schools, road maintenance and emergency services.

According to the Idaho Department of Lands, 78 percent of Blaine County's 2,660 square miles is owned by federal agencies.

The amount of funding this year is more than was projected, said County Clerk JoLynn Drage. Drage said the county had budgeted for just under $1.75 million in revenue from the program, though Commissioner Angenie McCleary had hoped the number would be closer to $1.85 million.

However, the county was only guaranteed PILT funding through fiscal 2012, and was looking forward to a five-year extension of PILT introduced by Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, both R-Idaho, last year.

A reduced version of the extension, which would secure Blaine County's funding for fiscal 2013, was approved by the Senate as part of a federal surface transportation bill, but was not approved by the House, casting doubt on whether the program would be renewed at all.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that of the total $393 million disbursement this year, $26.5 million went to Idaho counties. Elmore County led the pack with $2.2 million, and Idaho County followed with $1.5 million.

The extension bill is still in a Senate and House conference committee as members attempt to reach a compromise. Drage said she was told the committee might come to a decision by the end of July.

If the committee doesn't, however, the county will still be forced to approve a tentative budget as of the first week in August without knowing if it can count on a significant portion of its funding. Drage said that would be difficult, but that she might be able to draft a tentative budget without having the final amount.

"We don't have a plan yet," she said. "I should be able to at least gain some knowledge about what portion of funding we might get."

Kate Wutz:

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