Mesa County gets $3.5 million in latest PILT distribution

Mesa County will receive nearly $3.6 million in the latest payment in lieu of taxes on more than 1.5 million acres of public land.

The payment is the single largest to a Colorado county out of a record $40.1 million in so-called PILT payments in the state for the 2018 fiscal year. Four neighboring Western Colorado counties will receive a total of almost $7.4 million.

Nationwide, a total of $552.8 million will be distributed to 1,900 local government entities, also the most ever allocated in the 40-year history of the program.

“Local communities contribute significantly to our nation’s economy, food and energy supply, and help define the character of our diverse and beautiful country,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “These investments often serve as a lifeline for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services like public safety, fire fighting, social services and transportation.”

The PILT program compensates local government entities for revenues from nontaxable federal lands, including those administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and National Park Service. Payments are based on the acreage of federal land and population within a county.

Funding for the payments comes from the nearly $10 billion in annual revenue the Department of Interior collects from commercial activities on federal lands, including energy development, livestock grazing and timber harvests.

The 2018 payment to Mesa County tops the 2017 payment by nearly $134,000 and is more than double the 2012 payment.

“Having more than 70 percent public lands, communities throughout Western Colorado depend on vitally important PILT funds to help support essential services like P-12 education, search and rescue services, public safety and road maintenance projects,” said Christian Reece, executive director of Club 20, a coalition of cities, counties and towns as well as businesses and individuals in the region.

“PILT funds allow Western Colorado communities to remain economically competitive with their neighbors and help to increase the quality of life for all Western Colorado residents,” Reece said.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican whose 3rd Congressional District includes the Western Slope, agreed. “Many counties in Colorado’s 3rd District have broad expanses of non-taxable public lands, and PILT helps to bridge the budgetary challenges created by the inability to collect tax revenues. I am encouraged to learn that this is the largest amount of money ever allocated in the program’s history, and I look forward to seeing this money support essential services such as education, infrastructure, and law enforcement.”

The combined acreage of federal lands in Mesa County is third in Colorado behind only Moffat County with nearly 1.7 million acres and Gunnison County with more than 1.6 million acres. The PILT payment is higher for Mesa County than other counties, though, because of its larger population.

With nearly 1.2 million acres of federal lands, Garfield County will receive the second largest PILT payment in Colorado for the 2018 fiscal year of more than $3.2 million.

Montrose County will receive more than $2.6 million in payment in lieu of taxes on nearly 1 million acres of federal land.

Despite having almost 1.5 million acres of federal lands, the less populated Rio Blanco County will receive nearly $570,000. Delta County will receive almost $969,000 for more than 400,000 acres.