TCS - P.I.L.T and S.R.S.

December 3, 2016
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For a county putting together their budget for the coming year, it's certainly helpful to know all of the variables. Reasonable projections of revenue streams are essential to crafting a reliable and sensible budget. For many of Utah's rural counties, however, these reasonable projections aren't as easy to come by. This is because large portions of their budgets each year come from two federal government programs: Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes and Secure Rural Schools (PILT and SRS for short).

To understand PILT, we first need to understand how public lands play a role in western counties. The federal government owns a large portion of land in the Western United States, and all of that land is exempt from property taxes. Since counties rely on property taxes to fund their operations, those counties that have large amounts of federal land find themselves struggling to make ends meet. To rectify this problem, PILT came into being. In PILT, the federal government partially reimburses the county to make up for the tax revenue the county could have been getting if the land was not federally-controlled. PILT payments vary year to year but are always pennies on the dollar to what the property taxes on the land would be.


SRS is a bit different. Back in the Clinton administration, the Forest Service changed their management policies to end timbering in National Forests. There were several areas in the Western United States that relied heavily on the timbering industry for their tax base; most of the tax receipts from the timbering industry went to supporting local schools. After timbering was done away with, SRS was put in place to provide counties a way to keep their schools open. Counties receiving both PILT and SRS wish they didn't need to receive either. They want to go back to multiple use of the land, which would allow timbering, and many would love to see more of the federal lands turned over to the state or possibly even sold to private parties.

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