Farmington Daily Times: PILT funding added to the Farm Bill conference report

With OK from Congress and president, county governments nationwide will share $400M

By:  Ryan Boetel

FARMINGTON New Mexico senators said Tuesday that funding for the Payment of Lieu of Tax program has been added to the Farm Bill conference report.

If Congress approves the report and President Barack Obama signs it into law, county governments throughout the country will share more than $400 million to compensate them for federal lands in their jurisdictions, which county governments don't collect property taxes on.

In 2013, New Mexico received $34.7 million in PILT payments, and San Juan County received more than $2 million. The money accounted for about 6 percent of the county's $34 million general fund that year.

The PILT payments were uncertain because Congress passed an omnibus spending bill for the 2014 fiscal year that didn't include funding for the program.

After it was left out of the spending bill, San Juan County joined county governments across the nation in passing resolutions that highlighted how critical PILT money is to county budgets and that asked for the program be funded.

"I think what happened was all over the state and all over the nation, county commissioners spoke, and their senators and congressmen listened," San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said Tuesday.

In addition to passing the resolution, Fortner said he spoke with Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., in Santa Fe last week, and the senator told Fortner he heard of San Juan County's resolution and comments pertaining to PILT payments and was going to work to get the program funded.

Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., announced Tuesday that PILT funding was added to the Farm Bill for one year.

"Our effort to restore funding for the PILT program is a major victory for rural New Mexico," Heinrich said in a prepared statement. "This program helps counties across our state avoid budget shortfalls and maintains the economic strength of rural communities who rely on the funds for infrastructure maintenance, law enforcement, and other critical local services."

Fortner said San Juan County will continue to publicly express the need for PILT funding so San Juan County can continue to receive payments in the future.

San Juan County has received PILT payments annually since 1999. The county received more than $2 million per year for the last five years, during which the payments combined to be more than $10.3 million, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior's website.