Gila County, Schools Granted Gifts From $700 Billon Federal Bailout Legislation

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’Twas the night before Christmas, and the bailout bill laden with gifts did shout — Gila County has been nice. The county will receive in January $2.79 million from the $700 billion federal bailout bill signed by President Bush in October. The majority of that money — $2.1 million — will fund schools around the county, and $111,600 will finance roads. The money comes from the Secure Rural Schools program, which originally passed in 2000 to help counties with large amounts of federal land compensate for lost property tax revenue. Funds will continue flowing in until at least until 2011, although the amount will recede gradually to $2 million in the last year. Over four years, the county will receive $9.6 million. Of each installment, 20 percent will fall into Title II funds for forest projects. Ninety-five percent of the balance will fund schools, and the remainder will fund roads. Nationwide, first-year rural schools payments amount to nearly $520 million. Arizona is set to receive $20.8 million. Details remain unclear and the county is exploring whether it can give cities and towns money to fix their roads, among other things. The county decides how to divvy the money, but Supervisor Tommie Martin said the county is not permitted to dictate uses unless it wants to see its allotment decrease. Money dispersed with strings would be subtracted from next year’s money in a similar program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). The federal bailout bill also fully funded PILT for the first time in 32 years. Martin said she has been lobbying hard for full funding. On the federal level, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, largely helped pass the legislation, county officials said. In fiscal year 2008, Gila County received nearly $1.9 million in PILT money, the third highest amount in the state behind Mojave and Yuma counties, according to the Department of the Interior. Eligible counties will receive more PILT money in November, but the interior department has not yet announced how much. “We will get more,” said Deputy County Manager John Nelson. “No one knows how much more.” Last year, county schools received $312,000 in rural schools money, which the county superintendent of schools disbursed. The Gila County Regional School District, which the county superintendent of schools runs, received $164,000. Payson schools received $28,000. Globe schools received $11,800. The fully funded rural schools programs could lessen the impact of a $1.4 million Payson schools budget override voters defeated on election day, but the county has not yet discussed who gets what money. “That’s going to be part of the conversation next,” Martin said.

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