The federal government is awarding over $40 million of so-called PILT funding to Montana this year. That’s the largest amount ever allocated in the program’s 40 year history.
PILT is government shorthand for Payment in Lieu of Taxes.
In other words, those payments are awarded to counties with federal lands that are not taxable by local governments.
Lewis and Clark County, for example, has more than one million acres of those federal lands and received more than $2.8 million in this year’s round of PILT funding.
“So it’s roughly about $350,000 more than last year," says Nancy Everson, Lewis and Clark County’s Chief Financial Officer. “We are really glad to have it because it is a big chunk of our general fund."
Everson says almost all of that money funnels into the county’s operating budget.
“It funds the commission, administration, the county attorney’s office, Clerk and Recorder functions, bridges, our public works, the weed department, things like that," she says.
Ravalli County received over $3 million of PILT funding, according to Commission chair Jeff Burrows.
“Yeah, that’s about a 27 percent increase," Burrows says. "The prior year we had about $2.4 million.” Those county payments vary from year to year as a result of updated acreage data.
Burrows says those untaxable federal lands that PILT payments are based on do exert real costs on Montana’s rural communities.
“Just because a crime happen up on those federal lands doesn’t mean our local law enforcement is not going to respond, or a fire," he says. "It’s got a burden on local services. Then also, there are those federal policies and regulations that have impacted the economy down here. The primary being the timber industry and that timber economy.”
Some environmentalists, however, counter that other forces, such as market conditions, have affected the timber economy to an even greater extent.
Nineteen-hundred local governments around the country will receive almost $553 million in PILT funding this year.