Farm bill salvages Routt County's $1.47 million in federal property tax offsets


— The passage by Congress of the federal farm bill Wednesday offered a one-year reprieve for $1.47 million in federal funding that Routt County has been counting on to help carry out improvements to Routt County Road 14 this summer.

The funds comprise payments in lieu of taxes, or PILT, that Congress typically appropriates each year to compensate local governments for the property taxes they forgo on federal lands.

The monies have been a source of concern for Routt County this year, as well as for rural counties across the West. Earlier this month, PILT funds were left out of the federal budget bill. Now, they’ve been added back to a contentious farm bill that emerged this week from conference committee with bipartisan support. It’s that bipartisan support that pulled the PILT monies out of limbo.

“The loss of $1.5 million would (have been) a significant negative impact on our ability to fund capital projects within the pay-as-you-go fiscal policy,” County Manager Tom Sullivan said Wednesday.

“Prior to 2004 or 2005, we received less than full funding, and as low as 50 percent. The history has been something that we have had to deal with every year and likely since the inception of the funding in the early 1970s,” he said.

Passage of the farm bill assures only that rural counties receive their 2014 PILT funds. Next year’s funding still would be subject to appropriation by Congress.

While hailing the PILT deal, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett was quoted in a prepared statement as saying budgeting from year to year without being able to count on those funds is a problem for small governments.

“Rural communities in Colorado and across the country rely on these critical resources to provide basic services like police and fire protection and road maintenance,” Bennet was quoted as saying.

“This extension means they can move forward with their budget and plan for the rest of this year. At the same time, we need to provide more certainty for these communities in the long term rather than force them to wonder year to year whether Washington will live up to its end of the bargain,” Bennet said.

Routt County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Corrigan said Jan. 15 that Routt County historically has avoided relying on PILT monies for its operating budget, deciding instead to put them in a fund for road maintenance. If the $1.47 million were to not come in, sacrificing the improvements to C.R. 14, one of the primary routes from Steamboat to Stagecoach, presented a logical sacrifice, he said.

Sullivan said this week that the commissioners since have contemplated using 2013 PILT funds to do at least part of the scheduled work on C.R. 14 this year and perhaps dip into reserves to do a little more. The county would like to spend $750,000 in 2014 and another $750,000 in 2015.

“Basically, because PILT always comes in late in the year, the funding we received in 2013 is what we have in 2014,” Sullivan said. The 2014 monies would be carried forward to fund the second phase of the work in 2015.

Safety improvements on C.R. 14 include shaving off the top of hills on the winding road to improve sight distances for drivers.

PILT monies had taken a backseat to the debate in Congress between Democrats and Republicans about how much money to appropriate for food stamps in the new farm bill.

The Associated Press reported Monday that plans in the House of Representatives to make major cuts to food stamps were moderated under a bipartisan agreement on the farm bill.

The Web page Politco reported this week that House Speaker John Boehner approved of House Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas’ plans last week to promise Western lawmakers that PILT funding would be added to the farm bill in an effort to ensure greater buy-in for the larger piece of legislation.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


doug monger 3 years, 3 months ago

PILt is not a bonus it is an obligation that the Feds owe counties that have federal lands, for us to take care of their created issues. Specifically roads, public safety, emergency response, wildland fire and the list goes on and on. The problem is so regional in that states in the east and midwest have very little federal ownership while the later settled states of the west have millions acres of federal owned lands. if they want to sunset the payments, maybe they should sunset their ownership of Routt lands by the Feds and that they deed the lands over to the state, county or to be sold so that those lands would go on the tax role and pay their way. The big problem is that counties are not a big recepient of economy from fed lands, yes we get some marginal spin on sales tax but counties are not big recepients of sales tax dollars. Gauranteed if they decide to phase out the funds the counties will absolutely be required to phase out services directly related to federal lands and only undertake statutorily mandated services. Doug Monger


John Weibel 3 years, 3 months ago

Does not Routt County greatly benefit from increased land and home values because of the national forest and what it brings to the county? I am required to pay taxes on my agricultural lease on federal land, maybe Moffatt county does and Routt does not. I am sure that Ski Corp is paying taxes on their improvements in Routt National Forest.

So while there may not be as much in taxes collected, there might be more. Conceivably because of those federal lands being open to the public, people feel owning a home here is worth more than in Scottsbluff. Higher home values may actually yield more than it would without those federal lands. How many Maribou's, or condo complex's at the base would be here without the Ski area or the Forest?

Might be time to learn to ride the bike again without so much funding from above.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 3 months ago

Well, Routt County would get a good chunk in taxes if the ski area was privately owned vs national forest. The ski area would continue to exist if it was private property.

PILT was started because western states and counties started complaining that having lots of federal lands was making them poor. And if city dwellers want to access federal lands then the counties need to have the money to work on the roads. So it is a compromise that works for both the rural and urban areas.

PILT could probably be improved to give less money to relatively wealthy counties since then it becomes more plausible that federal lands are partially responsible.


Fred Duckels 3 years, 3 months ago

Doug, Another large potential loss in tax revenue comes from the environmental movement to put our coal and oil off limits. I am disappointed that the Interior secretary was not confronted about using the grouse as a political pawn.


John Weibel 3 years, 3 months ago

Scott, Ski corp should be paying taxes on the land they lease from government. The land is being used for a commercial purpose and is taxable. Just as an agricultural operation that has a lease on federal ground should be paying taxes on the leased land for an agricultural activity. It happens in other counties, I would guess it happens in Routt county also, could be wrong though, been wrong before and will be again.

The roads would be here for the locals to use as they are in Moffatt county and others that have federal lands on them.


Fred Duckels 3 years, 3 months ago

The farm bill cost about a trillion and passed with bipartisan support. The reason is that there was pork for everyone. I wonder why the TEA party is not very popular with either party? Go TEA party!


Fred Duckels 3 years, 3 months ago

The Pilot came out with an editorial claiming that it was unfair for the feds to be non committal about these funds. I'm in line with Mark's thinking and if we are to accept the pork I think that the whole picture should be painted. If just one entity declined the pork it would get massive publicity and just maybe this porkathon could begin to unravel.. That would be a big burr under the saddles of politicians from both partied.


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