New Hope for More PILT Funds

Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 10:30 pm

By Mara Knaub

Legislation unveiled Monday night is giving Yuma County hope that it will continue to receive payments from the federal government to make up for losses in property tax revenues from non-taxable federal lands.

The Payment in Lieu of Taxes program also makes it possible for local governments to provide police and fire protection, road maintenance and health services on federal land that is not taxable.

In 2013, Yuma County received about $3.2 million in PILT payments. County officials have been concerned with the potential loss of the funding since the program expired last year. If Congress fails to extend mandatory PILT funding for 2014, it will revert to a discretionary program subject to annual appropriations.

Yuma County joined other western counties and states in urging Congress to continue full funding of PILT.

On Tuesday, local officials received good news. Late Monday night, the Senate and House Agriculture Committee leadership unveiled the final five-year Farm Bill, which includes a one-year extension of PILT, covering 2014.

“In short, the attachment to the Farm Bill gives counties a one-year reprieve within which to work towards a permanent funding solution for PILT,” County Administrator Robert Pickels said.

“Now, we need to monitor the Farm Bill very closely over the next couple of weeks to ensure that it passes.”

In addition, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) introduce legislation that would permanently reauthorize and fund the PILT program.

“If enacted, this bill would end the uncertainty you all face year after year and ensure the federal government meets its obligations to our rural counties,” Jeremy B. Harrell, Heller’s adviser on energy, agriculture and natural resources issues, wrote in an email to officials.

“Sen. Heller is going to continue to fight for a permanent solution. PILT is an obligation the federal government has to any county with public lands. Congress needs to provide more certainty for rural communities than one-year extensions attached to extraneous bills moving through Congress,” Harrell added.

Another attempt to extend PILT has already failed. Heller had teamed up with other western elected officials to file an amendment to a spending bill, known as the omnibus, to fully fund PILT in 2014. However, the House passed the bill without the PILT funding.

“Sen. Heller hoped that the full Senate would adopt the amendment and send the underlying bill back to the House so we can avoid the crisis. Unfortunately, the amendment was not approved, the Senate passed the omnibus, and the President is expected to sign it into law,” Harrell explained.

“Sen. Heller will continue to fight to enact an FY2014 fix before June when counties would see a lapse in payments,” he added.

Supervisor Lenore Loroña Stuart previously noted that Yuma County, with just over 1.5 million acres, has one of the largest classifications of federally reserved lands in the United States.

“The message that we have been carrying to everyone who will listen is that PILT is one of the most critical federal programs in terms of impact at the county level,” said.

“The loss of PILT funding would have devastating effects on our local resources and severely limit Yuma County’s ability to provide critical services,” she added.

Buster Johnson, president of Arizona Association of Counties, also noted the potential impact on Yuma County.

“There are real cuts looming without this funding,” he said. “In Yuma, the loss of more than $3 million in federal funding could result in 70 lost employees. These are unacceptable cuts when all Congress needs to do is fund a program counties have been relying on for 40 years.”