National forest lands cost local counties
Every year the federal government is supposed to pay the three counties in the Roaring Fork Valley hundreds of thousands of dollars each to make up for lost property taxes that cannot be collected on federal lands.But each year the feds actually dole out far less than the promised amount because Congress shortchanges the program.In 2004, for example, Eagle County was supposed to receive $1.24 million from the federal government in payment in lieu of taxes or PILT funds, as the program is known. The county received only about two-thirds of that amount, or $842,000.Pitkin County received about $582,000 when it should have received about $895,000. The Pitkin County commissioners have lobbied Colorado’s congressional delegation to restore full funding.”It is a key issue to us,” said Assistant County Manager Debbie Quinn. “Ninety percent of the county is federal land.”The feds’ formula for figuring the amount it owes a county is based in part on acreage of federal lands and the county’s population.About 562,000 acres in Pitkin County are national forest, Bureau of Land Management holdings or other federal property. If even a small amount of that was private property assessed at market tax rates, the revenues would be huge. The PILT program was created to offset rural counties for at least a small amount of that loss.Pitkin County’s general fund budget is about $17 million, so the PILT program represents an important chunk of the revenues, Quinn said.Garfield County is hit even harder than Eagle and Pitkin counties. It received $1.17 million in PILT funds last year. Full funding would have boosted that payment to about $1.78 million.U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is trying to make Congress stop shortchanging areas that contain a large portion of federal lands. His amendment to the U.S. Interior Department’s budget yesterday to restore $12 million to the PILT program was approved by Congress. Colorado will receive about $1 million in extra PILT funds due to the amendment, according to Lawrence Pacheco, Udall’s spokesman.Udall’s district includes Eagle County, but he also works on several issues tied to Pitkin County.The national PILT program was whittled down to $200 million in President Bush’s proposed budget, according to Pacheco. That was a proposed decrease of an additional 12 percent. Congress added $30 million in earlier budget proceedings. Now the amendment that Udall helped get approved adds $12 million.With those additions, the PILT program will be funded at 80 percent of what is promised to counties in 2006, up from the 66 percent and lower levels that have been common over the last decade, Pacheco said.Udall has introduced a bill to try to ensure that PILT is fully funded to match the authorized level every year. The fate of that bill is yet to be decided.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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The future of the Aspen-Pitkin County airport took a significant step forward Thursday. Pitkin County commissioners decided 4-1 to accept the recommendation of a community-based committee and leave the runway where it is, a bedrock decision in the long process toward a new terminal and airfield.