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Sequestration could shrink federal land payments to Utah

Published April 29, 2013 9:30 am

Budget • Counties, already cutting back, face smaller PILT federal land payments.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In Utah, about 60 percent of the land is federally owned, and the state's 29 counties receive about $36 million in annual "payments in lieu of taxes" (PILT), according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Five Utah counties could be especially hard hit due to the abundance of federally owned land: Tooele, Iron, Box Elder, Washington and Uintah. Counties are unclear, however, as to the exact impact that sequestration will have on these budget-boosting payments.

Box Elder County Auditor Tom Kotter said that as a worst-case scenario, the county has budgeted for $200,000 less in PILT funds that should arrive in June — trimming to $2.7 million.

Sequestration also could shrink other pools of county funding, Kotter said, such as homeland security and victim-advocate grants.

"We don't know how bad it's going to be," Box Elder County Commissioner LuAnn Adams said of the anticipated 5 percent to 7.6 percent decrease in PILT funding, which helps maintain roads throughout the northern Utah county's unincorporated areas. But further belt-tightening seems near to impossible, Adams said.

"We've been cutting back personnel for the last two years and are about as tight as we can go," Adams said. "We've looked at every way we possibly can to be more efficient, but there's only so much you can do."

Adams also voiced concerns about sequester-caused cutbacks in social services, including mental-health programs.

"It puts more of a burden at the local level," Adams said. "If we don't take care of those folks, we'll see them in jail. Which is more expensive?"

Tooele County's PILT payment could decrease by about $200,000, said Public Information Officer Wade Mathews. In recent years, the sprawling western Utah county has seen drastic drops in hazardous-waste mitigation fees, along with the end of federal funds flowing from weapons that had been stored at the Deseret Chemical Depot.

To adjust, Tooele County laid off 50 employees in 2012, with an additional 28 workers opting for early retirement or accepting cuts in hours or pay. So far this year, 34 more employees have been let go, leaving only department heads in its Parks & Recreation and Building Maintenance divisions and transferring all social services to Valley Mental Health.

The Tooele County Fair — an annual tradition for more than 60 years — was also canceled until the Chamber of Commerce volunteered to produce the August event.

An 82 percent increase in the county's portion of the property tax levy is being considered, Mathews said, the first of its kind in nearly 25 years.

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

Twitter: @catmck Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): Cuts of 5 percent to 7.6 percent expected

Statewide • 32,827,408 federally owned acres — $36 million total PILT — $1.8 million to $2.7 million at stake

Tooele County • 2,050,199 federally owned acres — $3.3 million total PILT — $163,013 to $247,779 at stake

Iron County • 1,242,778 federally owned acres — $3.1 million total PILT — $153,250 to $232,940 at stake

Box Elder County • 1,202,575 federally owned acres — $3 million total PILT — $148,370 to $225,523 at stake

Washington County • 1,146,456 federally owned acres — $2.8 million total PILT — $138,943 to $211,193 at stake

Uintah County • 1,828,595 federally owned acres — $2.6 million total PILT — $132,001 to $200,641 at stake

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior