McInnis works to get more funds to Northwest Colorado | CraigDailyPress.com
Jeff Swanson

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McInnis works to get more funds to Northwest Colorado

Moffat County faces a problem many people cannot understand.

Because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a tax-exempt government entity, owns a large percentage of property in the county, property taxes cannot be collected from them. Instead, the federal government makes Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) on that land to make up for the loss in revenue that counties, such as Moffat, experience.

Those payments, though, have not been made in full to counties that rely on these monies to fund county budgets.

“These are funds that many counties rely on to help finance their general fund,” Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. “These programs, though, have never been fully funded, and the counties that are relying on this money are the ones who suffer.”

According to Raftopoulos, the county received approximately $142,000 in PILT funds last year.

New legislation that is being introduced in Washington may help these counties to receive the payments they are owed, and put money toward developing roads and schools in rural areas.

Representative Scott McInnis, R-Colo., has introduced legislation that would help to fully fund the PILT and the Refuge Revenue Sharing programs, which would reimburse counties with federal dollars for land the government owns.

“Rural America relies on these programs to produce dollars for everything from roads to schools and social services,” McInnis stated in a press release. “When Congress shortchanges PILT and the Refuge Revenue program, rural Americans suffer.”

Since counties are funded by property and sales taxes, rural counties such as Moffat, are unable to collect money from these federal lands, which can be a drain on local economies.

PILT was started in 1976 to help repay these communities, however, over the last 25 years, these federal payments have been substantially reduced because of the increase in inflation.

The Refuge Revenue Sharing Program has seen similar inflationary erosion since its inception as well.

“Nowhere is PILT more important than it is to us in rural Colorado,” McInnis stated. “As it stands now, our locally elected officials are in a financial straightjacket and only Congress can provide them the the relief they need.”

Many people outside of rural Colorado do not realize the importance of funding programs such as these, Raftopoulos said. With the bulk of people residing in urban areas, the idea of open, free-range areas is not something that they are aware exists.

“Even out on the eastern part of the state, many people don’t understand the type of situation that we are dealing with here,” Raftopoulos said. “Most of the land there is privately owned, so those counties can collect taxes from them. It gets even worse when having to explain this to the politicians from out east, because these programs are not going to directly affect them.

“It is important that Washington is made aware of this issue, because a lot of rural people in this area rely on this money.”

The BLM paid an estimated $133,986,822 in PILT grants in 2000 and has budgeted $134,600,000.