Colorado lawmakers push for PILT funding

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Scott Tipton

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U.S. Sen. Mark Udall

PILT monies in Northwest Colorado

County: PILT money, acres of public land

Routt: $1.47 million, 661,363

*Moffat: $554,000, 1.67 million

Mesa: $3.1 million, 1.5 million

Eagle: $2 million, 850,000

Garfield: $2.8 million, 1.2 million

Jackson: $170,00, 513,000

*Moffat collected less in PILT monies in 2013 than did Routt because revenues due to counties from federal mineral leases (FML) within their boundaries are deducted from PILT payments. Moffat County receives more FML monies than does Routt.

More than $500,000 of Moffat County’s budget still is up in the air at the federal level.

The money is tied to Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding that is playing a central role in debates in the U.S. Congress. PILT funds are given to counties that have public land they cannot tax. While the funds can be used in many ways, they usually help communities such as Moffat County cover costs of infrastructure.

Moffat County gives such funds directly to the county’s Road and Bridge Department, said Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe.

“If we can’t have the federal lands on the tax roll, we have to have some way of making up for those lost funds to take care of the roads to take care of Moffat County, because 60 percent of our land is federal land,” Grobe said.

“So if you can’t get taxes for that land, (PILT) was set up to make up those differences for us,” he said.

In 2013, Moffat County received about $550,000 in PILT funds, according to a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

This year, Congress is divided about where to attach PILT funds, which leaves lawmakers representing rural areas trying to find a spot for PILT.

Tipton voted “no” on the House’s appropriation bill Wednesday, largely because the omnibus draft did not include PILT funds, he said. But the legislation still passed.

“It’s disappointing that funding for PILT was conspicuously absent from today’s appropriations legislation, despite repeated pleas from Western members to renew the vital program,” Tipton said in a press release.

House leaders assured members they intended to attach PILT funds to the Farm Bill. But the Farm Bill tends to carry controversy.

“I remain hopeful that we will pass a Farm Bill soon, but the reality is that Congress has struggled for more than two years now to reach an agreement on that legislation, and counties cannot afford to wait in perpetuity for vital PILT funds,” he said in the release.

PILT funds vary drastically from year to year, Grobe said.

“We don’t know how much money we get from year. It can fluctuate $100,000 to $200,000,” he said.

This year, it’s gotten tied into politics.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is proposing legislation to make PILT funds a fixed funding mechanism, which means Moffat County could budget with a fixed expected figure from PILT funds.

“There is a growing bipartisan consensus that rural communities that lack a local tax base due to neighboring federal lands need help to support their police departments, firefighters, schools and other services that help maintain public safety and our quality of life. I look forward to working across the aisle and continuing to fight to pass this critical legislation,” Udall said in a press release.

Tipton isn’t usually one to push for more government spending, but he said this is different than government assistance programs.

Lawmakers “talk about the importance of our public land. Well it’s important. It needs to be funded,” Tipton said. “We’ll be visiting with leadership to look for different avenues so that is accomplished.”

Grobe agreed that these were essential government funds.

“It’s different because the government refuses to give the land back to the state. If you look east of the continental divide, most of the federal land has been given back to the states,” he said. “On this side of the continental divide where they’re holding onto the federal lands, and that’s affecting everybody.”

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com.

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