PILT funds pushed back into Farm Bill | VailDaily.com

PILT funds pushed back into Farm Bill

EAGLE COUNTY — An 11th-hour push in the federal Farm Bill means millions for Eagle County’s coffers.

Lawmakers caved in to pressure from Colorado’s congressional delegation and agreed to keep paying Eagle County and others to manage federal land as part of the Farm Bill.

In Eagle County, 85 percent of the land is owned by the federal government — the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management — and the feds don’t pay property taxes on it.

Instead, the feds hand out lumps of PILT money (payment in lieu of taxes). Eagle County government will receive $2.8 million from the feds for payment in lieu of taxes.

“We are so thankful that our federal representatives were able to use the Farm Bill as a vehicle toward PILT funding for this year,” said Jill Ryan, chairman of Eagle County’s Board of Commissioners. “I believe they are also introducing bills to make PILT permanent, so we don’t have to have this conversation every year. PILT is the federal remedy to compensate counties for non-taxable federal land; it is not a grant or gift.”

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The Forest Service pays Eagle County $550,000 in PILT money each year. The BLM pays $2.3 million annually, according to Eagle County’s financial records.

Some of that money goes to local nonprofits through Eagle County’s community grant program. This year the county awarded $2.3 million in community grants — the equivalent of the BLM’s entire PILT payment. The county commissioners decided to return to a community grant program after a three-year absence.

The county received 73 requests asking for $3.7 million.

The Forest Service’s $550,000 PILT payment goes directly to the Eagle County school district, according to the county’s financial records.

In return for giving the money to the school district, the BLM covers that $550,000 in its annual PILT payment. The only catch is that Eagle County has to wait 18 months for that BLM reimbursement.

“There is much in the Farm Bill that is vital for the health of our agriculture economy, including crop insurance, research, investments in production and regulatory relief,” said Rep. Scott Tipton, whose 3rd Congressional District includes Western Eagle County.

In some Colorado counties, 90 percent or more of the land is federally owned and cannot be taxed. Tipton said paying PILT funds is the federal government’s obligation to those counties.

Since 1976, PILT has provided funding to 1,850 counties in 49 states.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall introduced a bill this month to permanently fund and authorize the PILT program.

“Rural Colorado and communities across the West need Congress to stand up and fully fund the PILT program. I have been proud to lead this bipartisan push to include PILT in the Farm Bill and to find a longer-term solution,” Udall said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@ vaildaily.com.

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