Routt County school districts receive $300,000

Officials: Unexpected funding to go into reserves

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— Routt County school districts are receiving unexpected money that County Commissioner Doug Monger described as Christmas in July, but don't expect school officials to splurge on any presents.

Routt County is distributing about $300,000 to the school districts that it received from the federal government's Payments in Lieu of Taxes program. The program compensates local governments to help offset the property tax revenue that can't be collected on federal lands such as those managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Routt County's PILT payment increased this year because of federal economic legislation.

"Each year, counties with federal lands rely on the PILT program to help offset lost tax revenues and to pay for essential services such as firefighters, first responders, schools, water systems and roads," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former Colorado senator, said in a news release. "This year in particular, with economic pain felt across the country, the PILT program will help local communities weather the storm."

Because of the complex PILT payment formula, Monger said it makes sense for the county to give $300,000 to the school districts.

"Whatever we keep gets subtracted off next year's PILT payment," Monger said. "This way, the county is being held harmless, but the community is much better off."

The money is being split between the districts on a per-pupil basis. The Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts will receive about $214,000, $43,000 and $40,000, respectively. Although it's not the most exciting option, officials with all three districts said they plan to tuck the money away.

"We're going to hang on to it. We had to use $135,000 of district funds to pay off the vocational building," said Hayden School District Superintendent Greg Rockhold, referring to the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center. "This will go back into our meager coffers. : There's a lot of uncertainty, and the stimulus isn't going to hit us, so you just hang on to your pennies."

South Routt School Board President Tim Corrigan agreed with that line of thinking and also noted the state's budget crisis and uncertainty about how that might affect school funding.

"We have felt for some time that our : reserves are not as high as they should be," Corrigan said. "Right now, that's our thinking, but it's not set in stone. We're certainly not going to take any unexpected income and run out and spend it. We're going to be very conservative with it."

Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said it would be inappropriate to make any plans for the money outside of the district's budget process. The money could be used for any number of purposes next year, but for now, the money will sit in the bank, Cunningham said.

"It was a surprise to us. We didn't expect it or include it," she said. "We have a balanced budget, so I don't want to jump to any conclusions. It might be a different story if we had deficits."

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