We strongly support Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s effort to make permanent the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

These are payments to local governments that support providing public services on property owned by federal agencies. U.S. Rep. Kirkpatrick is working to garner bipartisan support for a bill that would make the program a permanent part of the federal budget.

The land holdings of the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Fort Huachuca and the U.S. Border Patrol represent a sizable portion of the 910,000 acres of federal property in Cochise County.

This year, the county has been granted $1.2 million from the PILT program to partially reimburse the cost of public services utilized by federal agencies and their employees.

It’s a pitiful amount compared to the actual cost of providing those services – about $1.31 per acre of federally owned property – more than $11 less per acre than the county’s property tax rate.

We’re not as earnest in our complaint about the amount of money received as we are about the need to establish PILT as a permanent program.

Local government officials are forced each year to contemplate budgets without PILT funds, never knowing until late in the budgeting process whether the federal government will continue the program.

While the money is always welcome whenever it arrives, the ongoing concern that Congress will eliminate the program prevents local officials from planning for the funds and limits the ability of taxpayers to realize any benefit.

Rep. Kirkpatrick has assembled fellow Democrats in the Arizona delegation, and we expect she will have little problem signing on the support of other, Republican, members of Congress who share her recognition of the need for these funds to support county and municipal governments in rural areas where there is a substantial federal footprint.

Cochise County Supervisor Ann English said it best in a recent meeting when she noted the importance of the PILT program: “It certainly is not the same amount of tax dollars we would receive if the land were privately owned, but it is an amount that helps us to keep the tax rate lower on private property.”

Reprinted from Sierra Vista Herald/Review

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