Rio Blanco County to receive $272,412 in PILT

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Rio Blanco County Budget Director Tom Judd said Thursday that the county is set to receive $272,412 from the Payment In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program, a federal government payment designed to compensate counties for non-taxable federal land located within a county's boundaries.

The funds, administered by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), replace lost tax revenue dollars and go toward costs of individual programs, after the program revenues are used, Judd said.

"These payments allow us to have a lot of programs, and keep the programs without increasing local taxes," he said

Judd said the time of payment varies year to year and, unlike most revenue sharing programs, payment is direct from the federal government. Other programs will have the funding filtered through the state.

Two types of programs benefit from PILT, which is general revenue to Rio Blanco County. Mandated programs, such as the county sheriff's department and the county coroner, will receive money as well as volunteer programs that include senior transportation and various nursing programs, Judd said.

With the state budget crunch, these funds are important for many programs that suffer from lack of funding, Judd said. Finances are critical enough that some state funds may possibly be diverted to other uses.

"There is talk about diverting the state highway users tax fund, but it hasn't happened yet, Judd said.

Congress first authorized the PILT program in 1976 when it recognized that local governments with vast acreage of federal land could not collect enough taxes to provide sufficient services, thus taxing fewer residents at higher rates.

The value of PILT payments has since eroded because of inflation. Congressman Scott McInnis, R- Colo., has introduced legislation that would fully fund the payments, and allow congressional appropriations to meet the authorization levels.

Judd said that 15 percent of PILT payments go to forest restoration programs.

He said most general revenues, such as PILT, do not go to the same place every time.

The BLM administers the PILT program because it is the largest single federal land management agency and is responsible for over 264 million acres of public land. Payments are made for national forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and some military installations, according to McInnis' office.

Dollars have become increasingly more critical to Rio Blanco County as it finds itself in a local budget crunch. According to the 2003 budget, service levels of various other departments will be significantly reduced and funding support has been withdrawn or reduced for many popular and benevolent local organizations.

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