Moffat County’s share of Anvil Points money in purgatory | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County’s share of Anvil Points money in purgatory

Anvil Points as it appears from a hilltop on Morrisania Mesa near Rulison. The U.S. government has agreed to make long-due royalty payments from the Anvil Points shale site to Colorado.

CRAIG — The $1.7 million Moffat County received from the Anvil Points settlement is in limbo, according to Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck.

In March, the Colorado State Legislature unanimously approved House Bill 1249, which was fast-tracked through the legislature to ensure that about $18.6 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior for the cleanup of the Anvil Points oil shale project went to the counties affected — Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, and Garfield. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill on March 22.

The legislation was needed because, under current law, all federal royalty monies are to be distributed statewide through a complicated formula designed to ease impacts from mineral production, a formula that didn’t exist when the Anvil Points site was operating, according to a March 22 article in the Grand Junction Sentinel.

As a result, Moffat and Mesa counties each received 10 percent of the settlement, while Rio Blanco and Garfield counties each received 40 percent. The payments were received in late March/early April, Beck said. He credited the efforts of U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet,  U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, and Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in securing the payments.

But now, though Moffat County has its share of the settlement in hand, the money is currently in limbo due to concern that its receipt might reduce the county’s portion of federal payments in lieu of taxes, or PILT.

PILT — which represents federal payments made to compensate state and local governments for some or all of the property tax revenue lost due to tax exempt ownership or use of real property — fluctuates according to acreages of federal land and population data.

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Beck said he is concerned the Anvil Points payment might affect the annual amount Moffat County receives under PILT.

“Nothing is set in stone, and we don’t have a clear answer,” Beck said. “We don’t know how its going to look.”

This uncertainty is because Moffat and Rio Blanco counties do not have federal mineral lease districts and had been advised their shares in PILT would be reduced by the amounts they received from the Anvil Points bill, according to Tipton’s office.

In May, Tipton added a provision to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit this reduction, but this provision was removed in the Senate version of the bill.

During an interview Wednesday, Tipton confirmed there is still some uncertainty as to whether the two counties will see reductions in their PILT disbursement due to the Anvil Points money.

"… Under the House version (of the NDAA) it would not impact PILT,” Tipton said. “That was also in the Senate version … but they stripped out that provision on the Senate side."

He said he is continuing to work toward ensuring the Anvil Points funds are preserved, in whole, for use by Moffat County and Rio Blanco counties.

"The intent was to be able to get the money back to where it should have been to begin with without penalty of the PILT payments," Tipton said. "We were disappointed in that … amendment in the NDAA, but the bill was not going to be held up over that provision, obviously. But, we're going to see what, if any, options exist for us."

Even so, there is still no legislative proposal to change how PILT disbursements are handled, according to National Association of Counties Associate Legislative Director Jonathan Shuffield. The association is committed to working with Congress and the current administration to fully fund the PILT program for fiscal year 2019 and find a permanent funding solution.

Bernhardt told the Sentinel in April that Moffat and Rio Blanco counties won’t have their payment in lieu of taxes reduced as a result of receiving the new money, but given Tipton’s comments, it is unclear if this has changed.

The Interior Department’s 2018 PILT National Summary report indicates almost all states will receive higher PILT payments in fiscal year 2018, due to a dramatic decrease in prior year payment deductions. As a general rule, when prior year payment deduction decreases, the PILT calculation increases.

Colorado received about $40 million in PILT payments in 2017, a $4.4 million increase from the previous year. This year, Moffat County received about $800,000 from the federal government in PILT funds.

Once the PILT issue has been resolved, Beck said the Anvil Points money will be used for infrastructure projects. Though no specific plans have been made for the money, Beck said projects such as improving Loudy-Simpson Park, repairing county buildings, and adding new vehicles to the county’s fleet are all possibilities.

Craig Press Editor Jim Patterson contributed to this report. Contact David Tan at 970-875-1795 or dtan@CraigDailyPress.com.