Montana Public Radio

Montana PILT Payments Drop

Jun 20, 2019

The federal government is awarding Montana $34 millon of PILT funding this year. That’s a 15-percent drop from last year’s record-high allocation.

PILT stands for 'Payment in Lieu of Taxes.' These are payments awarded to counties with federal lands that aren’t taxable by local governments.

Last year the feds dispersed $2.3 million to Missoula County and its 875,000 acres of federal land. This year’s payment dropped to about $1.9 million. 

That’s a 14-percent hit, and comes as a shock to Missoula County Chief Financial Officer Andrew Czorny.

Kootenai National Forest sign.
Credit Josh Burnham

“To see it go down this much in one year is really unbelievable," he says.

Communities that receive PILT funding use the money in a variety of ways, from administration and staff salaries to public works projects.

“It’s a big hole and we use that money to fund most of the critical government services here at the county, including the justice courts, the district attorney’s offices, recording, elections, treasury, motor vehicles, records, auditor facilities, Office of Emergency Management, 911 – I could go on," Czorny says. "We’re going to have to absorb that hit somehow and it’s a big one."

Czorny says the federal government actually added to Missoula County’s land base in the past year.

“We have 1,148 more acres that are untaxed, but where they were paying us $2.64 per acre last year, it’s been reduced to $2.27 an acre this year. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to be asking some questions," he says.

The formula the U.S. Interior Department uses to compute PILT payments is based on population, revenue-sharing payments, and the amount of federal land within an affected county. The payments vary from year to year as a result of additions and subtractions of updated federal acreage data.

Missoula is not the only county to lose PILT funds since last year. Western Montana’s Mineral County pocketed just over $250,000 this year. Compare that to last year’s $720,000.

At first blush it looks like Lincoln County lost close to $1 million this funding cycle, but not so, according to Commissioner Mark Peck.

“Because we were given two years of payments last year because the program went unfunded for a couple of years, so they owed us some back pay," he says.

Peck says Lincoln County’s roughly $680,000 PILT pay for 2019 is right in line with past payments if not a little higher.

He says as Lincoln County’s budget picture continues to improve, officials will probably save the bulk of this year’s funding in a rainy-day account.

See the full list of Montana County PILT payments.