Federal government pays Montana counties for non-taxable land
By Phil Drake
Montana: The federal government recently paid Montana counties millions of dollars for the services they provide for 27 million acres of non-taxable federal land. This year, the counties were paid nearly $4.5 million less this year from the year before. But, in general, counties will receive more money from the federal government through other programs. But they will have less leeway in deciding how some of those funds will be spent, an official said.
More than 1,850 local governments nationwide will receive payments totaling $358.1 million under the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program (PILT), U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. In all, Montana counties will receive $23.5 million.
A news release from the Department of the Interior stated that Montana and 27 other states – including Wyoming, North Dakota and Idaho – received lower payments this year. This was a result of increases in Forest Service timber and Mineral Leasing Act payments, fewer acres in the PILT program, and payments falling below the $100 threshold.
“It’s absolutely essential funding for counties, especially for those with large federal land holdings and for counties that do not have a large property tax base,” said L. Harold Blattie, executive director of the Montana Association of Counties.
Payments are also based on federal funds local governments gave under programs other than PILT during the previous year. These include those made under the Refuge Revenue Sharing Fund, the National Forest Fund, the Taylor Grazing Act, the Mineral Leasing Act, the Federal Power Act, and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. Sections 6904 and 6905 provide additional payments for additions to the National Park System and National Forest Wilderness areas.
Blattie notes the forest payments must be used for county road projects, education levies and the state. Whereas, the PILT funds go into county’s general funds with “no strings attached.”
Generally, most counties will receive more money, he said, but the government stipulates where some of that money must be used.