County reaps bountiful federal funds
The federal government has paid Eagle County more than $800,000 for federal land located within its border.
This year’s payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT, to Eagle County was $823,812, says Becky Gadell, Eagle County assistant administrator.
“That payment is $53,812 more than what we budgeted for 2003,” Gadell says. “We had budgeted $770,000.”
The county uses that money to support its general fund operations budget – about $26 million – says Mike Roeper, Eagle County’s finance director.
“It’s a significant amount of money. This has been going on for a couple years,” Roeper says. “If that payment would end, we would have to cut the budget. That would be our first choice.”
The PILT program, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, compensates counties for non-taxable federal lands located within their boundaries.
PILT for what?
Payments are made for: BLM lands; national forests; parks and wildlife refuges; land used for federal water projects; and some military installations.
“It’s not the same amount we would get in taxes, but it’s pretty close,” Roeper says.
“We expected less; we stay conservative,” he says “We based it on other years.”
In 2002, Eagle County received $770,751.
Of the $17.6 million being disbursed to Colorado counties this year, Garfield County received more than $1 million – up from $810,487 a year ago – and Pitkin County received $555,514.
The money is distributed based on the area of public land in a county, as well as its population.
“Nowhere is PILT more important than it is to us in rural Colorado,” says Blair Jones, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction. “We rely on these programs to replace lost tax-revenue dollars that go toward everything from roads to schools and social services.”
McInnis’ western Colorado congressional district includes 28 counties that count heavily on the payments, he said.
The value of payments to counties has been eroded by inflation over the years. In 1994, Congress attempted to address this concern by increasing the program’s authorization levels. However, Congress’ appropriations to PILT have failed to meet those authorization levels. A bill introduced by McInnis sets out to change that, Jones says.
If McInnis gets his way, future payments will be higher than they have been over the years since the program was begun in 1976.
“This year, $250 million were appropriated nationwide,” Jones says. “If the program had been fully funded, the counties could have split in excess of $300 million.”
McInnis’ bill would require Congress to appropriate PILT funds to the full degree authorized, Jones says.
Glenwood Springs Post Independent news editor Dennis Webb contributed to this story. Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.