Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Action Needed -- PILT in jeopardy!


As an active member of the Public Lands steering committees at National Association of Counties (NACo) and Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI), I have just been made aware this afternoon by staff of both NACo and CCI, that Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) will be offering an amendment to the Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) which would cut PILT funding for FY2011 by 75% in the current fiscal year!

I and other active Colorado County Commissioners were advised this afternoon to contact all the members of Colorado's Congressional Delegation to:

• Request that our Colorado Congressional Delegation representatives vote NO to any amendment which would cut the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

First, some compelling background information that I compiled in July 2010 in a letter to the Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:

Ouray County, Colorado is roughly 50% federal public land (159,584 acres). In 2008, PILT funding was "fully appropriated" for the first time in several decades. PILT is federal funds to compensate counties since counties must provide services to its citizens and those who use these non-taxable public lands. Services provided by the county include emergency services and mountain rescue, maintenance/plowing of forest access roads, sanitation, and other services. The federal government should offer counties compensation because federal lands will never be part of the local tax base.

We have been very grateful for the PILT funds we received during this period of full funding due to passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. In 2008 Ouray County received approximately $334,000 in PILT funds. In 2009 Ouray County received approximately $344,000 in PILT funds. Much of these funds have been utilized by our Road and Bridge Department.

Since PILT has been fully funded the County has increased the amount of other federal public lands payments, namely Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments, that has gone to our local school districts (Ouray School District, Ridgway School District, and Montrose School District). In fact Ouray County worked with our local school districts) to adopt Ouray County Resolutions 2010-014 (attached) which allocated 75% of our FY2009 SRS payments to our local schools this March. Thus of the $86,000 Ouray County recently received for SRS payments, $64,500 was immediately passed through to our local schools.

The PILT funds we receive are extremely important for not just our schools but also our Road and Bridge Department. Without these funds we would have to forgo crushing rock to use on our County roads, which alone cost $110,000 in 2010. The rock is applied to our soft surface county roads to keep them passable. Ouray County has over 200 miles of soft surface county roads and less than 20 miles of paved or chipsealed County Roads. Without the crushed rock being applied each year, the roads would be natural clay material and would be impassable when wet. We crush rock in the later winter/early spring so that our County roads can be mended, graded, compacted and finally, have a dust control agent applied in time for the summer tourist season. Most of our County roads are the primary access for popular public land areas such as the Alpine Triangle, Sneffels Wilderness, Owl Creek Pass, etc.

The PILT funds also allow us to plow through 12 to 20 feet of snow to have the high country jeep roads in the Alpine Triangle and Yankee Boy Basin open before July 4 for the outdoor recreation enthusiasts that come from all over the country. If these roads are not open to allow access into the Uncompahgre National Forest for 4-wheel drives, OHV’s, and hikers, then people won’t come. Our regional economy has evolved over the last 50 years from primarily ranching and mining to recreational tourism. If visitors do not come to enjoy the unparalleled beauty, pristine wild areas, and heritage tourism opportunities that Ouray, San Miguel, San Juan, and Hinsdale Counties are gateways for, the whole San Juan Mountain region suffers.

Receiving reduced PILT funds will cause Ouray County to reduce or stop funding the following programs which are a matter of federal interest with respect to maintenance and access of public lands.

* Applying road base and crushed rock to County roads that are the primary access roads to public lands in our county ($150,000/year);
* Grading, compacting, and applying magnesium-chloride for dust control on County roads that are public lands access roads ($60,000/year);
* Spring snowplowing to open the 4-wheel drive roads in the Alpine Triangle, Yankee Boy basin, and other popular public lands areas ($70,000/year);
* Providing funds and in-kind work for weed control along USFS and BLM roads ($20,000/year);
* Providing funds for portapotties and the backcountry ranger in Yankee Boy Basin area ($6,000/year);
* Providing funds and in-kind administration and legal research into historic trails and rights-of-way crossing public and private lands--in partnership with the BLM and USFS, as part of the Public Access Group, $25,000/year);
* Providing funds, staff, and emergency coordination services for backcountry rescues ($10,000/year).

PILT payments help gateway communities provide important resources that are critical to the operation and maintenance of our federal public lands. Without the County providing volunteers and county services these public lands would certainly be negatively impacted. County Road 361, a rugged dirt road for high clearance traffic only, leading to Yankee Boy Basin, has experienced over 20,000 4-wheel drive vehicles in a 10-day period spanning the 4th of July. Summer monsoons can and have washed this road out in a matter of minutes. It is the County Road and Bridge Department that responds to washouts and makes emergency repairs to reopen the road for stranded backcountry enthusiasts.

In summary, the 56 counties that receive PILT payments in Colorado believe it is in the best interest of the U.S. Department of Interior to make full and timely PILT payments to counties. We are the gateway communities for these public lands. Our citizens work very closely in cooperative and collaborative partnerships with our public lands management agencies, including the BLM and U.S. Forest Service building and maintaining trails, providing portapotties, facilitating alpine hosts for backcountry campgrounds, providing signage and barriers to keep closed areas closed, providing weed management services along U.S. Forest Service and BLM roads, and finally we and adjacent counties provide funding to the Forest Service to employ a backcountry ranger in a Jeep, to patrol the 4-wheel drive roads in the summer.

Some of our Colorado counties are over 90% federal public lands, and reduced funds would cause an immediate local recession by causing local governments to immediately lay off critical staff. Please fully fund the PILT payments to Colorado's counties. In 2010 Colorado Counties received a collective total of $24,267,593 out of a total of $367 million PILT payments made nationwide. In 2009 Colorado Counties received $28,660,622.

In anticipation that reducing PILT payments would be a topic taken up by the House of Representatives and the Senate, I have been working with CCI and the CCI Public Lands Steering Committee, to compile information about how PILT funding is used by the 56 Colorado Counties that receive it and deliver the information on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. in March.

In 2010, the 3rd Congressional District represented by Congressman Tipton, 29 counties received $14,151,801 in PILT funds for the 17.7 million acres of federal public lands and 706,000 people within this district.

I am attaching a
PILT fact sheet, although prepared by CCI in 2007, it is still a good primer on the subject. I am also attaching a letter sent from the Ouray County BOCC to former Congressman Salazar and then Congressman-elect Tipton in December 2010.

Here is a link to the contact information, web sites, and phone numbers for Colorado's Congressional Delegation:

Click here for State by State PILT figures:

When you call our Colorado Congressional Delegation, ask to speak to the staff member most knowledgeable about PILT and public lands issues.

Key talking points:

1. It is in the best interest of the federal government to make full and timely PILT payments to counties. For local governments to continue to provide these essential services, we need a public commitment from members of Congress to support long term funding at full authorized levels.

2. It would be far more expensive for the federal government to provide the essential services that the local governments and volunteers in gateway communities provide.

3. To make up for a severe reduction in PILT, counties would be forced to consider raising the property taxes of residences and businesses in the gateway communities or reduce county services like maintaining roads and providing public safety. Either way this will certainly cause local jobs to be lost, and ultimately result in driving away those that care most for our important public lands and national treasures.

4. PILT payments at levels authorized under P.L.103-379 are critical for local governments.

5. Ask your Congressman/Senator's office to contact the Kaptur office immediately and request that the amendment be withdrawn.

6. Request that our Colorado Congressional Delegation representatives vote NO to any amendment which would cut the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

Last, please know it is very important for you to contact our Colorado Congressional Delegation. Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon had this comment tonight via email:

"You may all not see eye to eye with Eagle County (and me) as much as we all would like. But I would ask you to do your very best to make your representatives aware of this issue. Jared Polis’ office has promised that he would speak to the poor misguided Representative from Ohio.

PILT payments is very important to our budget and after laying off 77 people over the past 2 years it is positively squeaking it is so tight.

So anything you can do for the Forest communities by making your representatives aware will be most appreciated. Polis’s office said that they were not aware since there have been over 500 amendments to the continuing resolution. So I guess the message is don’t assume that your representative knows about this. Please give them a call."

Thank you for your consideration and diligence in these matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me about this or any other County matter.


Lynn Padgett,
Ouray County Commissioner, District 1
Click Here for a printable pdf verion of this post

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