A program that pumps millions of dollars into the coffers of the governments of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties faces an uncertain future because of the federal budget situation.
About 1,900 rural governments, mostly counties, reap federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, funds each year. It’s the federal government’s way of compensating counties for property taxes they miss out on because of federal ownership of land.
But rural counties don’t always get top priority in Congress, especially during fiscal-austerity moves. U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall scrambled last year to help keep the PILT program alive. Authorization for payments was attached to a transportation bill.
This year, $21.5 million was shaved from the program because of federal sequestration — mandatory cuts to the federal budget after Congress failed to craft its own plan.
Counties receive funds based on a formula that includes their percentage of federal lands, population and prior-year payments from revenue sharing of mineral-leasing royalties.
Pitkin County’s share of PILT funds dropped slightly to $1.25 million this year from $1.28 million in 2012.
Eagle County’s payment fell to $2.04 million this year from $2.09 million last year.
The program has become increasingly important to the counties over the past decade. Pitkin County received $555,514 through PILT in 2003. The 2013 amount is up 125 percent.
Garfield County received $2.83 million through PILT for 2013. That is up nearly seven times from the $403,176 received last year.
Garfield County saw its PILT funds plummet starting in 2010 because of revenue-sharing from mineral-lease royalties. The federal government returns some of the funds it receives from oil and gas companies to the counties where federal lands are leased and oil and gas are produced. The sharing of revenue was meant to offset additional costs that counties were incurring from oil and gas activity, such as the need for new roads.
Garfield and Mesa counties made adjustments so that they aren’t direct recipients of mineral-lease revenue anymore, according to Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. Towns in the counties still can apply for grants via programs established through the revenue-sharing. And by receiving fewer dollars through mineral-lease revenue-sharing, Garfield County received significantly more PILT funds, he said.
Jankovsky said Garfield County’s PILT money should be fairly stable for years to come. That’s assuming that the program is maintained.
Bennet and Udall have tried to get PILT reauthorized for five years so the rural counties of Colorado have certainty about the funds, but Congress hasn’t gone along with the idea, according to a representative of Bennet’s office.
An announcement by the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the PILT program, indicated that a long-term commitment is being sought.
“The president’s fiscal-year 2014 budget proposes to extend mandatory full funding for the program for another year while a sustainable long-term funding solution is developed for the PILT program,” the Interior Department said.