By Nick Worth
About 1,900 local governments around the nation are receiving a total of $399.8 million under the 2013 Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, according to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Navajo County’s share comes out to $1,417,672, a decrease of $34,302 from last year.
“It’s money we get from the federal government for the federal lands in our county that we don’t collect taxes on,” said Navajo County Finance Director James Menlove.
The PILT program 2013 authorized level was originally set at $421.7 million, but was reduced by $21.5 million due to sequestration. After administrative expenses, a total of $399.8 million is allocated for payments to counties.
Arizona’s share of the PILT money for 2013 is $32,203,852, a $682,723 drop from last year’s payment of $32,886,575. Arizona is behind only New Mexico ($34,692,967) and California ($41,445,228) in dollar amount of PILT monies received among the 50 United States in 2013.
Of the over $32 million allocated for the state of Arizona, Yuma County is set to get the most PILT money among counties with a payment of $3,244,942 and Greenlee County the least, with a payment of $783,176.
Menlove said the money goes into the county’s general fund. “It’s not restricted in any way,” he said.
According to Jewell, the PILT payments will help local governments carry out vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations.
“They will keep essential public employees on the job,” said Jewell.
According to a press release from the Interior Department, individual county payments may vary from the prior year as a result of changes in acreage data, which is updated yearly by the federal agency administering the land. Federal Revenue Sharing payments from the prior year and population data, which is updated using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, will also affect the amount of money given to the individual counties.
Federal Revenue Sharing payments are made to local governments under programs other than PILT during the previous fiscal year. Payments include those made under the Refuge Revenue Sharing Fund, the National Forest Fund, and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, among others.
The lands include the National Forest and National Park systems, Bureau of Land Management lands, those affected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation water resource development projects, and others.
PILT program eligibility is reserved for local governments, mostly in rural counties, that contain non-taxable federal lands and which provide vital services, such as public safety, housing, social services and transportation. Since these jurisdictions provide significant support for national parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas throughout the year, PILT seeks to compensate them for that support and for foregoing tax revenue from these federal lands.
“It’s a small amount of what we could collect if that federal land were taxable,” said Menlove of the PILT payment.
According to the Interior Department, this year’s PILT program is the last to be funded under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which reauthorized PILT for 2013 and funded full entitlement levels of the program.
From 2008 through 2012, the program was funded under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. 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 collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting. A portion of these revenues is shared with states and counties in the form of revenue-sharing payments. The balance is deposited in the U.S. Treasury, which in turn pays for a broad array of federal activities, including PILT funding to counties.
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By Nick Worth