County Releases ‘Final’ Forest Fee Money To Schools

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Rim Country schools have a little more cash in the kitty now that County Schools Superintendent Linda O’Dell has gotten clearance from the Gila County Board of Supervisors to distribute federal FY 2012 forest fee funds.

Unfortunately, the budget-saving infusion of federal money for rural schools might not come again.

The federal government makes the payments for schools and counties with large tracts of federal land to make up for the lack of property taxes. The Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self Determination Act has been continually renewed for the past 13 years — but may not survive the current budget standoff. Gila County received $1.5 million in late January 2013. However, O’Dell delayed handing out the final installment until she figured the federal sequester wouldn’t force the county to return a portion of the payment. The final payout totals $144,000.

Rim Country schools’ share is $37,703 for Payson; $7,815 for Pine; $7,627 for Tonto Basin; and $14,288 for Young.

However, in the current fiscal year the federal government will deduct more than $860,000 from its timber sales payment to Arizona, according to a report from the Cronkite News Service written by Jack Fitzpatrick.

A Forest Service letter to governors in mid-August said it needs to keep the money to make up for the federal budget sequestration that took effect earlier this year. The Aug. 19 letter to Gov. Jan Brewer said Arizona would still receive about $1.1 million this year after having $861,351.95 withheld from its payment.

The Forest Service has made the payments for decades from timber sale money based on a formula set in 2000.

However, O’Dell last Tuesday told the board of supervisors that things might still change. She said the House might provide additional funding for the forest fee program.

Other business

Meanwhile, the county and other agencies are girding up for yet another battle with the federal government in hopes of extending a comment period on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to allow the Mexican grey wolf to spread outside of a remote area on the Arizona-New Mexico border. A variety of agencies have concerns with regard to the entire process the USFWS has followed regarding the wolf issue.

Assistant County Manager Jacque Griffin asked the supervisors to approve submission of two letters to the USFWS on the extension and process at the Sept. 3 meeting. The county agreed to the proposal.

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