You are here

Federal Budget Eliminates $1 Million in PILT Money for Fremont County

Public lands in the Four Mile Creek area north of Canon City are an example of the 60% of all lands within Fremont County on which the county collects no property taxes

The $1.1 trillion budget compromise moving through Congress this week would deal a severe blow to Fremont County government and many other rural Colorado counties which rely on revenue from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.   Congress’ broad new spending plan includes no cash to compensate Fremont and other rural counties with federal lands, leaving Western lawmakers scrambling to save the long-standing program before the money dries up in June.

The PILT program annually divvies up $425 million among counties that have some public lands, the argument being those lands leave communities with a diminished property tax base.   Eliminating the PILT program would cost Colorado counties $31.9 million.   In Fremont County alone $1,018,000 would be wiped out of the county’s General Fund budget.   Nearly 60 percent of all lands in Fremont County are federally owned public lands for which the county collects no property tax.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden notes that Fremont County’s General Fund budget is estimated to have a closing balance at the end of 2014 of $1.3 million.   Norden said the $1 million loss in PILT money would be catastrophic to the county’s budget and force the county into considering deep budget cuts in the middle of a budget year.

Norden notes that previous Boards of Commissioners were able to set aside some of the PILT money for capital construction and special projects.   But since the county started facing budget cuts back in 2007 all of the PILT money has been used for General Fund expenses including public safety expenses at the Sheriff’s Department.   Norden said when Ken Salazar served as a U.S. Senator from Colorado he sponsored legislation that funded the PILT program at 100 percent for five years.    Prior to that, PILT was funded at an 80 percent level.   Since the five year funding bill expired, money for PILT has been subject to annual appropriations from Congress.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Tim Payne said he was glad to see Colorado Congressmen Doug Lamborn, Scott Tipton, and Cory Gardner sign a letter urging House leadership to restore the PILT program.    Payne said Lamborn voted against the Omnibus Budget Bill in the House today in part because of the negative financial impact it would have on counties that have public lands.

Payne said the Board of Commissioners was told yesterday that Colorado Senator Mark Udall has introduced separate legislation that would restore and enhance the PILT program.   Payne said he’s optimistic a solution will be found to resolve the issue.

Norden said he particularly appreciated a quote today from the American Lands Council which responded to the lack of Congressional support for PILT funding which said,  “We should get into the habit of calling PILT what it really is ... PILTSWCICHOPTPL - Payment In Lieu of Taxes States Would Collect If Congress Honored the Original Promise to Transfer the Public Lands.”