RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Sandoval County Commissioner Glenn Walters took a little time off from vacationing in Washington, D.C., to help with a pressing issue back home.
Walters met with Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, both Democrats representing New Mexico, on Dec. 16 while he was in the nation’s capital to urge them to fight for Sandoval County to continue to receive payment in lieu of taxes — or PILT.
Local governments receive PILT to offset losses in property tax revenue due to the non-taxable federal lands within the county. The potential reduction in those funds is part of the reason the county is being cautious about its income this year.
Walters said he didn’t have to argue with Udall and Grisham about why the funds are important.
“They’re really trying to support us quite a bit,” he said.
The PILT funds represent about $430 million of the federal budget that could be on the chopping block if Congress doesn’t make an appropriation. And it’s a funding source that, if cut, would disproportionately affect the southwestern part of the country.
Sandoval County receives about $2.2 million annually in PILT funds. That’s out of a roughly $29 million in yearly revenues to the general fund.
“It goes right to the general fund,” Walters said. “It’s part of the operational dollars.”
He said that, with the uncertain nature of the nation’s budget, it is important to continue to fight for the funds. Automatic annual funding for PILT came to an end in 2007, and Congress extended funding for the program. Funding now is done through appropriations.
If Congress does not act, the National Association of Counties says the PILT funds received in June will have been the last fully-funded disbursement.
In September, President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget submission to Congress requested a one-year extension of the PILT program to fund payments for the fiscal year, according to the Department of the Interior website, doi.gov.
Although there is support from the president and members of Congress, Udall said in a news release that he and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., are concerned the federal government is trying to “rob Peter to pay Paul” in forthcoming plans to compensate counties.
What that may refer to is a plan to provide PILT money from a different source this year, according to Walters. The suggestion is that the money could come from the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act, or FLAME Act, which is used to help with fire suppression efforts.
While Udall’s release did not address the FLAME Act directly, it said: “Local communities should be paid what they are owed and that funding should not come at the expense of other compensation those communities receive.”