Friday, March 18, 2011

Letter to Representative Tipton regarding Secure Rural Schools Funding for FY2012 and future SRS reform

As you are aware from learning about Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) recently, many counties are compensated for the tax-exempt status of federal lands lying within their county.  Our county is approximately 50% federal public land (159,584 acres).  Another form of federal payments to counties to compensate for the tax-exempt status of these federal public lands are "Forest Payments", also known as Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments.
A summary of SRS published by the Congressional Research Service (June 24, 2010) contains excellent background information:
"Counties with federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service as National Forest lands (such as we have the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre & Gunnison National Forest & San Juan National Forest) and with certain Bureau of Land Management lands have historically received a percentage of agency revenues from fees and sales of forest products generated by these lands." 
Since 1908 the USFS has paid 25% of its gross receipts to the states for use on roads and rural schools in the counties where the national forests are located.  This mandatory spending program was enacted to compensate local governments for the tax-exempt status of the national forests, but the compensation rate (10% of gross receipts in 1906 and 1907; 25% of gross receipts since) was not debated in 1906-1908.  This program is called "USFS Payments to States" because each state allocates the funds to road and school programs. --but the USFS determines the actual amount each county receives or uses.  As timber sales especially declined substantially, Congress enacted the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 (SRS; P.L. 106-393) as a "temporary, optional program" based on historic revenues rather than current revenues. 
SRS expired at the end of 2006.  Congressional debates over reauthorization have considered several formulas.  Meanwhile, legislation with mandatory spending raises policy questions about increasing the federal deficit and thus poses a procedural barrier to enabling legislation.
There are many valid concerns about SRS, including: 1) a decline in USFS receipts of 83% since 1989; 2) annual fluctuations of payments (up and down) by more than nearly 30% annually (making it hard for the federal and local governments and schools to budget); and 3) linkage between competing management decisions and outcomes.  In the long-term the SRS system should be modified, with serious consideration of changing to more of a tax-equivalency compensation system for local governments and rural schools.
However, without a short-term action, our rural schools will lose the federal funds we need to offset the tax-exempt status of nearly half of Ouray County.  Over  75% of the SRS payments received by Colorado counties goes directly to local rural schools.  Ouray County distributed 75% of the SRS forest payments to our Ouray County local schools in 2010 and 2011.  The remainder goes to the County Road and Bridge Department, to help provide safe routes to the schools.
As a result of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, 38 Colorado counties received $17.2 Million in FY2008, $12.2 Million in FY2011, dropping to $5.0 Million in FY2012.  The funds received by these 38 Colorado counties affect 2,819,994 people & 480,000 Colorado school children.
As a result of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, Ouray County received $96,745 in FY2008; $86,066 in FY2009, $78,763 in FY2010, and $70,877 in FY2011. 
Rural schools in Representative Tipton's Third Congressional District are the most affected by the decrease in SRS Funds.  27 Third Congressional District counties, together totaling 667,373 people, received $14,231,847 in FY2008, $10,085,105 in FY2011, and this will dramatically drop to $4,159,396 in 2012; a loss of over $10 Million since 2008, with at least 75% of that money going to our rural schools (see attached map). 
For example, in Ouray County, by Resolution 2011-006, $59,097.26 was transferred to the Public School Fund, and " distributed to each school district in the County in proportion with which its pupil enrollment during the preceding school year bears to the aggregate pupil enrollment in all districts in the County during said preceding school year".

By Resolution 2010-014, $64,549.62 was transferred to the Public School Fund by Ouray County and distributed to the local rural public schools in the same manner. 

These funds covered one and a half to two teachers' salaries each year for the Ouray and Ridgway School Districts, directly contributing to our locals schools' abilities to have manageable class sizes and excellent performance ratings.  Both school districts are currently ranked among the best in the State.

During a luncheon on March 17 (yesterday) with Reggie Bicha, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, Governor Hickenlooper, and Colorado Human Services Directors Association, and Casey Family Programs, emphasizing opportunities for increased State-Local Partnerships to benefit Child Welfare in Colorado. A reoccurring theme of the speakers was that healthy kids live in healthy families and in healthy communities.  It was acknowledged by the Child Welfare experts that 40% of American children are not fluid readers by 8th grade, with the statistics worse for those children who do not have a permanent and healthy living situation.  For these reasons very few foster children ever make it to college.  Ouray County schools produce excellent readers with a very high percentage of local children going on to college and higher educational opportunities.  Losing Secure Rural Schools funds, or leaving them at the FY2012 level, will have an impact on our schools and communities in Ouray County and the Third Congressional District.  These funds contribute to the health of our Ridgway and Ouray schools.  This comes at a time when schools are struggling for appropriate state and federal funding, at a time when our local schools have just made significant cuts from the loss of State funding, and as local property tax revenues are projected to fall which will reduce another funding source. 

Now, more than ever, the health of our children, families, and communities depends on full funding of SRS at the FY2008 levels to offset the tax-exempt status of federal public lands within their counties. 

I urge you to sign the "Dear Colleague" letter by March 18th (attached)!  It is essential to support full funding of the Secure Rural Schools forest payments at FY2008 levels next year and to work with your colleagues toward an appropriate long-term compensation system for rural schools and local roads.

Lynn Padgett,
Ouray County Commissioner, District 1

Friday, March 11, 2011

Press Release for NACo Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Commissioner Padgett Addresses Federal Funding for County Programs at NACo Legislative Conference
Works to Help Carry Rural County Government Message to Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C. -- By some federal accounts the recession may have officially ended months ago, but not as far as Ouray County and other Colorado Counties local governments and schools are concerned.  That was the message delivered to Capitol Hill by Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett (District 1) and more than 1,500 fellow county officials from across the country during the National Association of Counties' (NACo) 2011 Legislative Conference, March 5-9, in Washington, D.C.  Colorado Counties had a pre-conference caucus on March 4 and ended their conference after a full day on Capitol Hill meeting with Colorado Senators and 6 Colorado Representatives on March 10.
The San Juan Mountains were well represented by Commissioner Padgett (Ouray County), Commissioner Art Goodtimes (San Miguel County), and Commissioners Wally White and Kellie Hotter (La Plata County).  Altogether, the Colorado Counties delegation had 42 County Commissioners and 10 County Staff or other Elected County Officials, for a total of 52 NACo Legislative Conference attendees.
Colorado Counties are well known at NACo for their organization and team spirit, by holding the Colorado Counties state caucus the night before the start of the conference to determine group positions on NACo resolutions and federal policies affecting county governments. 
During the Conference attendees attend leadership seminars, Steering Committee meetings, Caucus meetings such as the Colorado caucus, Western Interstate Region caucus, and Rural Action Committee caucus.  Commissioner Padgett attended all of these.  Schedules are crammed, with sessions or meetings starting as early as 7am and going until 5:30pm. 
Steering Committees have members from states including Alaska and Hawaii throughout the U.S.  These committees help shape federal policies affecting County governments and send communications in the form of letters and resolutions to federal legislators, departments such as the Interior Department, and the President on matters affecting counties.   Commissioner Padgett was elected to a two-year term by her Colorado Commissioner peers on the Public Lands Steering Committee.  Her term is from January 2011 to January 2012.  Her conference fees, travel, and hotel during the conference were paid by the Public Lands Steering Committee at no cost to Ouray County tax payers.
Resolutions contemplated by the Public Lands Steering Committee during this conference included the recent discussion and a split vote on communicating opposition to Secretarial Order #3310 on Wild Lands; supporting a change in Forest Service personnel organization to place law enforcement officers under the direction of Forest Supervisors (timely based on Ouray County's recent discussion with our local USFS regarding the backcountry ranger for jeep roads); and supporting the exemption of renewable biomass combustion emissions from the EPAs "Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule".

Presentations at the Public Lands Steering Committee included one on illegal marijuana growing operations in western National Forests and development of an "All Lands, All Hands" Natural Resource Academy to help community-based collaborative approaches to natural resource planning, project design, and implementation across jurisdictional boundaries.  Subcommittee meetings focused on federal land payments to counties including the Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments, federal land management, and gateway communities.

Educational sessions offered the opportunity to learn about federal grant opportunities and gain greater understanding of emerging federal issues, and key NACo initiatives including the County Works, Veterans and Military services, and Restoring the Partnership campaigns.

Commissioner Padgett met with the NACO Prescription Drug Card Program administrators.  Ouray County will be rolling out this free program around April 1st.  It will allow residents to use a free card to obtain many of their prescriptions at a discount.   Arapahoe County stated it has saved their citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Educational sessions were recorded this year, so that Commissioners could listen to recordings of sessions they missed while attending other concurrent sessions.  Sessions attended by Commissioner Padgett included presentations and discussion on foreclosure; changes to the Clean Water Act; issues on siting of Renewable Energy components; and cutting-costs of County Government with technology.

Other highlights of this conference were speakers that included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Admiral Mike Mullen, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Joe Scarborough, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), House Natural Resources Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica.

Many of the speakers publically concurred with NACo President Judge Glen Whitley's recent letter to President Obama and NACo Resolution on the federal deficit.  Key points made by President Whitley and NACo were that Congress and the President cannot solve budget deficit by only cutting domestic, non-military discretionary spending that makes up 12% of the annual federal budget "on the backs of the American people and local governments".  One speaker said that in the 1970s non-miliatary, discretionary spending was 55% of the annual federal budget.  Several speakers acknowledged that the war in Iraq & Afghanistan is costing over $2 billion per week, and is using borrowed money to be financed.  They said that it was impossible to balance a budget if "entitlements are off the table, revenues are off the table, and defense is off the table".  The repeated theme from both the Republican and Democrat speakers was that not investing in education, infrastructure, and innovative research and development is foolish. 

The Conference concluded with a long day on Capitol Hill for the Colorado county officials.  Leaving at 6:45 am they first had "the most expensive bagel you will ever buy" with Senators Bennet and Udall.  County attendees had to pay $31 in cash each to cover shared transportation to the Hill ($9), and shared orange juice, coffee, and bagels ($22) for themselves and the Senators.  However, the opportunity to have an intimate discussion with the Senators and their staff's for a half-hour each, is productive at making county priorities known and strengthening relationships and partnerships with our federal legislators and their staffs.  Thus, while steep, it is the price of doing business in Washington, D.C.

Colorado Commissioners discussed 6 topics that had been voted on by the Colorado counties as being important, and presented each Senator and Representative with talking points on each topic, an executive summary on PILT with maps of how Colorado's funds are allocated, and a map of SRS fund allocations.  The 6 topics discussed were:
·         the importance of not imposing unfunded mandates on counties; the importance of PILT and SRS funding for counties at 2008 levels to counties and rural schools for at least 10 years;
·         supporting a multi-year transportation bill that would identify a new, sustainable funding source to support highway and transit projects;
·         adequate funding for the USFS for campground and trail maintenance, forest health, and wildfire protection needs as bark beetles continue to destroy at least 100,000 trees a week in Colorado;
·         support for Child Welfare funding flexibility, especially supporting IV-E waivers that would allow counties to use preventative services to prevent more expensive foster care arrangements;
·         support of Clean Colorado Coal technologies.

Commissioner Padgett worked with Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) staff to develop colorful maps to highlight the importance of PILT and SRS funds for counties.  The SRS map, which highlights a loss of $10 million dollars of funds for FY2012 compared to FY2008, was impressive to both of the Senators and especially Representative DeGette, whose district receives no PILT or SRS funds.  In speaking on the SRS issue, Commissioner Padgett said, "The fact that Colorado will lose $12.2 million dollars in FY2012, and that 75% of more of that money is distributed by the counties directly to local rural school districts affecting 480,000 Colorado school children, is an issue for all of Colorado.  I hope you will all [all Colorado legislators] discuss this at your joint breakfast next week.  To turn this around it will require immediate action with the ongoing House Resolution. Summit County and Eagle County are each reporting declines in property valuations by 30-35%.  Half of the property tax revenues go to the schools.  This is dire.  The remainder of the SRS funds go to rural county Road and Bridge Departments to provide safe routes to schools."

Commissioner Padgett highlighted to Representative Tipton that his congressional district, the 3rd Congressional District, is going to lose $10 of that $12.2 million. 

"Representative Tipton was very gracious and sincere about strengthening local-federal partnerships," Commissioner Padgett shared after a dinner at America's Restaurant in Union Station with Representative Tipton and his staff.  Rep. Tipton invited the Colorado county officials to dinner on March 9th, and it was attended by over 25 county officials, primarily from the 3rd Congressional District.

Commissioner Padgett can be reached about this conference or any other county matter at or 970-258-0836.