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Farm Bill passage feeds county coffers

Staff Writer

President Barack Obama signed the $956 billion farm bill Friday, Feb. 7 at Michigan State University — a bill with a significant impact to Archuleta County.

The bill, officially titled the Agricultural Act of 2014, provides funding for numerous federal programs for the next 10 years such as food assistance and, perhaps the provision with the most monetary affect to Archuleta County — Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

The bill had a long trek through Congress, beginning as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 when introduced in July 2013. The bill passed on Feb. 5 and was signed by the president on Feb. 7.

Also commonly known as PILT, Payments in Lieu of Taxes pays money to local governments for federally owned lands that are non-taxable in order to offset losses in property taxes to that local government.

In Archuleta County, only 31 percent of property is privately owned, with 49 percent of land belonging to the San Juan National Forest and 14 percent belonging to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

In 2012 and 2013, Archuleta County received more than $1 million in PILT each year.

PILT payments, which began in 1976, were in question for several years prior to the passage of the farm bill.

The 2013 payment was received after the payments were extended for the year through a legislative measure known as MAP-21 (the Moving Ahead for Progress Act).

The passage of the bill and what it means for Archuleta County was not overlooked by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners.

“There is no understating the effect of PILT on Archuleta County,” commissioner Clifford Lucero wrote in an e-mail. “Due to the large amount of federal lands in Archuleta County these funds are critical to our being able to provide even basic services such as roads, and sheriff protection. We appreciate the hard work of our congressional delegation in securing funding for another year and encourage residents of Archuleta County to be prepared to help our national representatives insure this revenue stream is not lost in the future.”

Commissioner Michael Whiting, too, submitted a statement about PILT to SUN staff via e-mail: “The County received $1,064,992 in PILT payment in 2013. That is a lot of money for a small County. One of the objectives of my recent trip to DC was to do what I could to make sure that PILT got funded either in the Omnibus or Farm Bill. I’m proud of and thankful to our delegation in Washington for getting this done.”

“The citizens need to understand that 60 percent of our county is public lands, and that’s land we don’t receive property tax on,” said commissioner Steve Wadley.

Without that funding, Wadley said Archuleta County would barely be able to perform basic functions, and the county works hard to have PILT at the forefront of the federal delegation’s issues.

“I think any legislation that makes it easier for farming and ranching families to make a living so we can keep these small farms and ranches together is important for our community,” Wadley said.

But it remains to be seen what the fiscal impact of PILT will be on Archuleta County in 2014.

In the 2014 Archuleta County budget, Larry Augsbury, finance director and budget officer, wrote: “The PILT funding continues to be an important and interesting revenue source. In 2011, we received $958,946 in PILT funding. According to present legislation, we were authorized to receive full funding through calendar year 2012. The enabling legislation did sunset in 2012, but an additional year of funding was included in the MAP-21 legislation that extends the PILT funding through 2013, which came in slightly over projections at just over $1,000,000. In FY2014, an accurate amount to be received is difficult to estimate. We are budgeting a -35% decline to $650,000 for 2014.”

Another provision potentially affecting communities nationwide is a cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That cut follows reform measures that more narrowly define who is and is not eligible for food assistance.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on February 13, 2014.