Federal omnibus bill has implications for Moffat County
PILT monies in Northwest Colorado
County: PILT money, acres of public land
Routt: $1,589,124 and 662,953 acres
Moffat: $601,073 and 1.67 million acres
Mesa: $3,354,896 and 1.6 million acres
Eagle: $2,191,645 and 851,401 acres
Garfield: $3,026,294 and 1.8 million acres
Jackson: $185,298 and 515,180 acres
*Moffat collected less in PILT monies in 2014 than 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.
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior
Craig — Congress’ decision not to shut down the federal government and pass the omnibus bill brings good and bad news for Moffat County.
An omnibus bill includes several appropriations bills and allows them to be passed under a single vote. Many of these appropriations are necessary for keeping the federal government open.
Folks in Moffat County can also be sure many of their essential government functions will be funded. The Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, passed in Congress in 1976 and fully funded in this year’s bill, reimburses counties with large amounts of federally owned land for their inability to collect taxes on those lands.
PILT received $372 million of the $1.1 trillion bill.
“While the Senate’s work to barely avert a government shutdown over the weekend is certainly nothing to be proud of, this bill contains some crucial funding for Colorado priorities,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a press release. “Resources for PILT will give Colorado communities a bit more certainty through the rest of the fiscal year to provide essential services like schools, fire protection, and road maintenance.”
Moffat County typically uses such funds for the Road & Bridge Department, according to Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe. Funds are used to repair bridges, roads and replace asphalt, among other major maintenance projects.
But Grobe said Moffat County won’t be using PILT funds from this year. Instead, they’ll go straight to a savings account.
“We’re not going to use it this year because we are anticipating a million-dollar shortfall next year,” Grobe said. While the shortfall isn’t guaranteed, it’s not guaranteed to not happen, either.
“This way we know we will have the funds available in our budgeting process, and especially with a possible shortfall, we want to try to mitigate as much as possible,” Grobe said.
The greater and Gunnison sage grouse policy riders in the bill also affect Northwest Colorado.
According to a statement from U.S. Department of Interior secretary Sally Jewell, the riders prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from “writing and issuing rules related to sage-grouse.” One implication of this rider includes preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from finalizing the 4(d) rule on Gunnison sage grouse. Finalizing the 4(d) rule would provide certainty about the types of economic activities conducted in Gunnison sage grouse habitat areas.
The rider, and its implications, could change how greater sage grouse decisions are made in Moffat County for the future.
John Swartout, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s sage grouse specialist, said the language of the omnibus and the accompanying sage grouse rider is confusing for him.
The omnibus runs until Sept. 30, only 15 days after the original date that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set for a ruling on the greater sage grouse. The original date for the ruling was Sept. 15.
But no matter what, Swartout said he’s going to keep working.
“We’ve got to keep working with the same urgency we were working to finalize our state plan and move forward,” Swartout said.
By passing the omnibus bill, Congress also quietly agreed to stop the war between the federal government and state governments about state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries.
A provision in the bill restricts the U.S. Department of Justice from swooping in and shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries and industrial hemp operations.
Shaun Hadley, Craig Apothecary owner, said he wasn’t really too concerned about a federal raid in the first place and hopes this good news means better news in the future.
“I think it’s really cool to see the federal government move in the correct direction,” Hadley said. “I hope they can figure out the bank situation for marijuana next. So hopefully this will be a good first step to allowing businesses to have those accounts.”
With an above-average snowpack following a snowy winter, local firefighters and wildlife experts are expecting a mild fire season this year, especially at higher elevations.