County waits on $427,895

McInnis says Western Slope deserves bigger cut of PILT money

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Routt County officials were notified this week to watch the mail for a check for $427,895 from Uncle Sam.

The funds represent "payments in lieu of taxes," which are intended to offset the absence of property taxes on public lands such as national forests. Routt County has more than 2,200 square miles of public land.

The funds are sometimes referred to as PILT money. This year's PILT payments are up 64 percent from last year.

However, Congressman Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, contends Routt and other counties in his district on Colorado's Western Slope deserve more. He has introduced legislation that would require Congress to appropriate funds that would effectively adjust PILT payments to take inflation into account.

"Nowhere is PILT more important than it is to us in rural Colorado," McInnis said. "We rely on these programs to replace lost tax revenue dollars that go toward everything from roads to schools and social services."

PILT funds often are used locally to improve county roads that lead to heavily visited public lands, Routt County Commis-sioner Dan Ellison said.

Congress authorized the PILT program in 1976. The legislation recognizes that counties with substantial tracts of public lands within their boundaries often feel compelled to increase the tax burden on residents. They do so in part to recover lost property tax revenues that would have been generated by those public lands. The program is administered by the Bureau of Land Management because it is the largest single federal land management agency.

Routt County received $260,084 in fiscal year 2002 compared with this year's payment of almost $428,000. McInnis spokesman Blair Jones said the annual payment is based on a complex formula that takes into account a county's population and acres of public land. In some years, PILT payments may be reduced by other federal payments made to local jurisdictions. That helps to account for the big jump in Routt's payment from last year.

Moffat County is receiving $635,390 in PILT monies this year.

Routt County Assessor Amy Williams said public lands here exceed 735,000 acres, or a little less than half of the county's entire acreage. Public lands include tracts in three national forests, state school lands and BLM land. The Routt National Forest accounts for more than 572,000 acres. The BLM manages about 80,000 acres in Routt County.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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