Since 1977, the Pocahontas County Commission has relied on money from the federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program to bolster its annual budget. PILT provides money to local governments to compensate for property tax revenue losses because of tax-exempt federal lands within their borders.
The authorized level of PILT payments is calculated using a complex formula. Five factors affect the calculation of PILT payments to a county: the number of acres of eligible federal land, the county’s population, payments in prior years from other specified federal land payment programs, state laws directing payments to a particular government purpose, and the Consumer Price Index as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Because PILT payments can be reduced if a county received payments under other federal programs, a question arose whether Pocahontas County’s past PILT payments had been reduced by the amount of money received from the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. If so, the county’s PILT payments would increase due to the expiration of the SRS program last year.
In 2014, Pocahontas County received $801,530 in PILT money and $421,000 in SRS money. But the county’s PILT payment was not reduced by the SRS amount. Department of the Interior PILT specialist Ryan Brown explained that the county’s past PILT payments had not been reduced because SRS money went directly to the county school system. In that case, Brown explained, PILT payments are not reduced.
Therefore, Pocahontas County will not receive higher PILT payments as a result of the loss of SRS funds. Congress has fully funded the PILT program for 2015, so the county can expect to receive a PILT payment this year close to last year’s payment of $801,530. The payment will amount to approximately 12 percent of the county’s $6.5 million budget.
Brown said PILT payments beyond 2015 are subject to a number of factors, including funding limits from Congress. PILT payments are disbursed to counties in June.