Federal funds revived for rural counties
A program that added a collective $6.13 million to the budgets of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties last year was revived from life support Wednesday when the U.S. House passed a $100 billion farm bill.
The bill included $425 million in funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, program. PILT provides financial aid to rural counties that contain a lot of national forest or other federal lands. The federal government doesn’t pay property taxes on those lands, yet the counties have to provide some services. For example, Pitkin County maintains Maroon Creek Road even though it only serves national forest after T Lazy 7 Ranch.
PILT is designed to offset counties for the loss of property taxes on federal lands.
Pitkin County received $1.26 million from the program last year. Eagle County reaped $2.04 million, and Garfield County gained $2.83 million. About 81 percent of the land in Pitkin County is managed by federal agencies and isn’t subject to local property tax. Eagle County is 78 percent federal lands, while Garfield County is 63 percent.
The funding of the program was in doubt when it wasn’t included in the federal budget approved earlier this month. It was expected to be included in the farm bill, but nothing was certain. The House passed the bill by a vote of 251-166. It is expected to pass the Senate and get President Obama’s approval. (See related story on A26.)
Aspen’s congressman, Republican Scott Tipton, wasn’t in Washington, D.C., for the vote because of a death in his family. He released a statement saying he supported the farm bill, in part because it funds PILT. He said he will continue to work for long-term funding of the PILT program.
U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, also lauded passage of the farm bill and the resurrection of PILT.
The bill approved funding for PILT from last year, according to Ryan Yates, associate legislative director for the National Association of Counties, a group that lobbied for funding for the program. Funding last year was $401 million after sequestration. The funding level was $393 million in 2012.
Congress didn’t address longer-term funding for the program, Yates said.
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