Club 20 urges the restoration of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding for counties that host federal lands within their borders. Counties in Colorado west of the Continental Divide host significant federal lands within their borders; while some counties have more federal property than others, it is important to note that approximately 70 percent of the entire land in this region is owned by the federal government.
Federal ownership of these lands does not relieve our local governments from any of the obligations to provide services for land within county borders. Our county governments maintain the obligation to provide services related to law enforcement, medical services, road maintenance, fire safety and unique to federal lands search and rescue operations. The PILT funding provided to local governments, even when fully funded, is in many cases much less than is needed to provide the services described above along with safe access to public lands for U.S. citizens and international visitors. Private landholders pay significantly more for similar services and, ultimately, subsidize the costs of services provided for public lands.
One such example in western Colorado is Hinsdale County. This county is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island; the federal government owns 96.5 percent of Hinsdale County. The remaining privately owned property generates approximately $1 million in property tax revenue for county operations yet PILT funding for this county in 2013 was only $131,409. At nearly 9,000 feet in elevation, many of those visitors are ill-equipped to handle the rugged terrain and altitude of the area. This can, and does, result in the need for search and rescue efforts, law enforcement and medical services to be deployed. Last summer the wildfire in and around the area cost the county dearly in multiple ways.
Nowhere in the United States is it acceptable for a private landowner to arbitrarily set his/her own property tax payment or to decide not to pay it when their finances are strained without consequence. Yet this is exactly what the federal government is doing with regard to PILT payments.
We urge Congress to step up and fully fund PILT payments going forward and even consider adding an inflation protection factor in the funding formula. This is a health and safety issue for all citizens living near and visitors to federal lands in the West.