Mesa County to receive $3 million in PILT payment

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

Mesa County will receive more than $3 million in lieu of taxes on federal lands for the 2013 fiscal year.

The payment is double what the county received last year and accounts for nearly 10 percent of total payments to Colorado counties for FY 2013. The payment was lower last year because federal mineral lease payments were deducted, said Marcia Arnhold, finance director for Mesa County.

Mesa County will receive $3,127,674 under the payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) program, the most of any county in Colorado, the Department of Interior announced.

PILT payments to 56 Colorado counties total almost $31.7 million, an increase of $3.9 million over last year. Nationwide, a total of nearly $400 million will be paid to 1,900 counties. That amount was reduced $21.5 million by automatic federal budget cuts implemented under sequestration.

The PILT program compensates counties for nontaxable federal lands. Payments are calculated based on the acreage of federal lands and population within a county. Funding comes from revenues the Department of Interior collects from commercial activities on federal lands, including oil and natural gas leasing, livestock grazing and logging.

More than 1.5 million acres of federal lands — including lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and National Park Service — are located in Mesa County. That area is the third largest in Colorado behind Moffat and Gunnison counties.

Garfield County, with nearly 1.2 million acres of federal lands, will receive more than $2.8 million in its 2013 PILT payment. Montrose County, with nearly 977,000 acres of federal lands, will receive more than $2 million. Despite having more federal lands at almost 1.5 million acres, Rio Blanco County will receive about $500,000.

Mesa County received $1,578,211 in its PILT payment for FY 2012.

Federal mineral lease dollars were deducted from the PILT payment and allocated instead to a mineral leasing district set up in Mesa County, Arnhold said.

New rules recognize federal mineral leasing districts as separate from county governments. That allows counties to receive their full PILT payments, with mineral lease royalties paid to mineral lease districts, she said.

PILT payments offer an additional benefit to counties in that there’s no restriction on their use, Arnhold said. In Mesa County, PILT payments go into the county general fund to help pay for a range of services, including the sheriff’s office and criminal justice system, she said.