Federal budget bill doesn’t fund PILT payments

The much heralded bi-partisan 2014 budget bill passed by Congress recently doesn’t include funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, in which the federal government attempts to reimburse counties for the property value of federally-managed land.

Nye County received $2.9 million in PILT payments during the 2013 fiscal year, which was reduced 5.1 percent to $2.66 million this year. County Manager Pam Webster told commissioners Tuesday that’s about 10 percent of the budget.

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he was in Washington, D.C. last week talking with members of the Nevada congressional delegation to lobby for the resumption of the program. They are confident the program funding will be reinstated and made permanent for the next five years, he said.

“What it is, all the land they manage they are trying to pay us a pittance of what they owe in property taxes,” Schinhofen said.

Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said the federal payments amount to about 33 cents per acre. Nye County is comprised of about 97 percent federally-managed land. There have been repeated requests over the year to fully fund the PILT program.

Otherwise, Schinhofen said Nye County could handle the federal government like other delinquent property tax owners.

“We could send them a tax bill and if they don’t pay it, we could sell it off for taxes,” he said.

Wichman said she couldn’t remember any time in history when the county didn’t receive any PILT payment. It’s more important to western states with a lot of federal land.

“Unfortunately, what happens is the folks in the East who are making rules and regulations they don’t understand what PILT is,” she said. “The senator in Illinois wanted to get rid of it because they were only receiving a couple hundred bucks anyway.”

Wichman posed the question: “When was the last time you were a guest in someone else’s house and you treated your host as if you were doing them a favor by being there?”

She added there have been discussions about a bill in the state Legislature creating a road district so funds from the Secure Rural Schools program go directly to that road district instead of the county. The SRS program provides funds to counties with forest service land, but that reduces the amount of money the county receives through PILT.

The National Association of Counties delivered a letter to members of the House and Senate appropriations committees signed by more than 750 county officials and 15 state associations Jan. 8 urging them to support PILT. NACO said since 1976 PILT provided critical funding to nearly 1,900 counties in 49 states and three U.S. territories.

A statement from the office of U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. said, “Senator Heller is extremely frustrated with this situation and has been personally working with many of his western colleagues to identify solutions to the problem. Last year, Nevada’s share of FY 2013 PILT dollars exceeded $23 million. We recognize how important these resources are integral to providing public safety, fire protection, education and other essential services to Nevada’s local communities.”

On Jan. 16 Heller’s office announced he co-sponsored legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D.-Colo. to permanently authorize and fund the PILT program.

“Senator Heller is tired of the federal government shirking its responsibilities to our public land counties. PILT is not just any discretionary pot of money for members from out east to pick from for their pet projects. It is an obligation the federal government has to any county with public lands,” he said.

That same day, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., announced he spoke with community leaders and elected officials from all seven counties in his Fourth Congressional District about PILT funding. He co-sponsored House Resolution 3879 that would make permanent the PILT program.

“Work is being done on a short-term extension of the funding, which expires in June. However, Nevadans need a long-term solution. That is why I am joining a bipartisan coalition of congressional members who represent communities in need of PILT funding. We are working on a permanent vehicle for this program so rural communities have the certainty they need in their budgeting processes,” Horsford said.