Each year the federal program, Secure Rural Schools subsidy (SRS), contributes thousands of dollars, via the county coffers, to the local school and public roads. Considered a PILT compensation, or Payment In Lieu of Taxes, the money is divided, based on a specific formula, between fixing roads and maintaining the school.
This year, Colorado will receive $12,479,205.00 in SRS funds to be distributed in rural counties that have BLM or Forest Service parks. Of the 63 counties in Colorado, 43counties, including Custer County, will split the approximately 12 million in funds.
As a PILT, the SRS provides tax revenue that Custer County loses since the primary landowner, the federal government, does not pay property tax to the county. Of the nearly 7,480 square miles in the county, Uncle Sam owns 40 percent of it.
To offset the loss of property tax, in 1908, the Fed legislated to provide 25 percent of its gross receipts from timber sales, grazing, minerals, recreation and other national forest land use fees to benefit schools and county public roads situated in counties with large parks.
When timber sales declined, resulting in lower payments to the states, Congress passed the Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Beginning in 2000, it ran until 2006. Reauthorized in 2008 by Congress for another four more years, it expired in 2012. Congress again extended SRS through 2013 and, in February of this year, President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642 / Public Law 113-79), which prolonged SRS for fiscal year 2014.
Treasurer Virginia Trujillo explained how the SRS subsidy works. At first the law compensated counties for the maintenance of public land roads. “In the past, Road and Bridge got the majority of the cash and the school a tiny bit,” Trujillo said. “When Saguache county contested this distribution of money, Title 3 came into being, which not only gave a great share of the pie to schools, but also stipulated how SRS money is spent at the county level.”
Trujillo indicates that 15 percent of the PILT reparation must be placed in the county general fund to be used in one of three ways: 1) to build Firewise communities; 2) reimburse counties that have undergone a national disaster; 3) to construct community fire protection. Road and Bridge receives a set amount of $27,533.17. The rest is then divided between school districts in the county, which are C-1 and RE-2 in Florence.
The formula to compute PILT payments throughout all state counties is based on population, receipt sharing payments, and the amount of Federal land within an affected area. This year, Custer county is projected to receive $132,722.00. Fifteen percent will go into a Title 3 program and the rest divided between the schools in Westcliffe and Florence.
Trujillo indicates that last year, Custer County received $147,236.20 in compensation; $22,008.43, or fifteen percent, went into a community Firewise fund and $97,6017.60 was divided between the RE-2 and C-1 schools.
According to C-1 school superintendent Chris Selle, the SRS is included in the school’s yearly budget. However, as reported in the Tribune in January, this year’s PILT payments were uncertain for 2014. For 2015 and beyond, Congress or the president will need to continue the program for rural counties to receive this essential funding.
– Cyn Williams