County to receive $3M from federal government

| July 15, 2020 1:00 AM

Flathead County will receive just over $3 million this year from the federal government under a long-running program that compensates local governments for nontaxable federal land.

The appropriation is roughly $187,000 more than last year’s payment to Flathead County.

Montana’s slice of the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes pie is $35.1 million, up from the 2019 statewide total of $33.9 million, but down from the 2018 state allocation of $40 million.

A total of $514.7 million will be distributed to more than 1,900 local governments around the United States to help pay for critical needs such as emergency response, public safety, public schools, housing, social services and infrastructure.

Flathead County’s payments-in-lieu allocation is the largest among Montana counties. Ravalli County will receive $2.67 million this year; Lewis and Clark County will get $2.7 million; Missoula County will get just over $2 million. Neighboring Lincoln County’s allocation is $698,006, while Sanders County will receive $563,625.

About 70 percent of Flathead County’s 2.44 million acres is federally owned.

Each year Flathead County earmarks $500,000 of the payments-in-lieu money to the road department.

In recent years the county has set aside a portion of the payments-in-lieu money for construction of a new jail, while keeping some in the county’s PILT fund until it’s designated for specific needs.

In past years the federal money appropriated for Flathead County was used to help pay for the South Campus Building and the renovation of the old jail facility that houses the County Attorney’s office complex.

Also in recent years, Flathead County has used the federal money for projects such as main Courthouse renovation, construction of a parking lot next to the Earl Bennett Building and to help buy the building that houses the Montana State University Extension Service and 4-H program.

Tax-exempt federal lands include those administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest and for federal water projects and some military installations.

Since payments-in-lieu-of-taxes payments began in 1977, the Department of the Interior has distributed nearly $9.7 billion dollars to states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

The department collects more than $13.2 billion in revenue annually from commercial use of public lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting, the Department of the Interior said in a press release.

Using a statutory formula, the annual PILT payments to local governments are computed based on the number of acres of federal land within each county or jurisdiction and on the population of that county or jurisdiction.

Individual county payments may vary from year to year as a result of changes in acreage data, which is updated annually by the federal agency administering the land; prior-year federal revenue sharing payments reported annually by the governor of each state; and population data, which is updated using information from the U.S. Census Bureau.