Gila County has eyes and a voice in Washington, D.C. in the form of Patricia Power of Bose Public Affairs Group.
Power has served as a lobbyist for Gila County for years. At the board of supervisors’ Jan. 21 meeting, she reported on current issues including the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program that supports schools, prospects for the Four Forest Restoration Initiative to reduce wildfire danger by thinning the forest and the Resolution Copper land exchange near Superior to allow one of the world’s largest copper mines.
• PILT Taxes
The federal government gives local counties and schools money to help offset losses in property taxes due to the amount of non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. The payments help fund firefighting, police protection, construction of public schools and roads and search-and-rescue operations. The annual payments cover tax-exempt federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and for federal water projects and some military installations.
The PILT Act sets the formula for payments based on population, receipt sharing payments and the amount of federal land within an affected county.
In 2013, Gila County received $3.2 million for the 1.775 million total acres of federal land within its boundaries. Arizona received $32 million in PILT payments in FY 2013.
However, PILT payments didn’t make it into the FY14 Omnibus Funding bill, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-D2-Ariz.) reported in the White Mountain Independent of Jan. 21, 2014.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-D2-Nev.) said Speaker John Boehner, in front of 30 Western House members, promised to fund PILT, probably in the farm bill, Thomas Mitchell reported in a commentary in the Elko Daily Free Press Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Kirkpatrick introduced legislation Jan. 15 to permanently authorize the PILT program.
Power told the Gila County Board of Supervisors PILT might still win permanent authorization and as part of the Farm Bill still inching through Congress.
• Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI)
The Forest Service has awarded a private company a contract to thin some 300,000 acres in Northern Arizona in the next decade, which will sharply reduce the risk of fire danger to forested communities. Power said the process has gained momentum and still represents the national model for restoring tree-choked, drought-plagued forests.
Supervisor Tommie Martin (R-D1) gained little comfort from that report. “We have barely treated more than a thousand acres and we are going into a third fire season (since the Forest Service awarded the 4FRI contract). We should have had 45,000 acres treated by now and started on another 30,000 acres.”
• Land Exchange for copper mine
The Resolution Copper land exchange has been tangled up in congressional red tape for nearly nine years and has been pulled twice (once in October and again in November, 2013) from a floor vote by sponsor Rep. Paul Gosar (R-D4-Ariz.) when he could not round up the votes. The latest objection came from Native American tribes in support of the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s insistence the exchange would desecrate sacred lands.
Power said both Gosar and co-sponsor Kirkpatrick are still trying to make it work, but are looking at what to do next.
The supervisors asked Power to keep track of a couple of other issues important to the county.
Chairman Mike Pastor (D-D2) wants her to watch over anything that transpires regarding funding for the workforce development program. He said the issue will affect both Gila County residents and the local economy.
Martin asked Power to look into the U.S. Sen. John McCain proposal to move the Rural Water Supply Act oversight to the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority. She said she’s worried such a bureaucratic shuffle could complicate the process for funding Payson’s C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) pipeline project and other communities in Northern Gila County and possibly eliminate or restrict the money. Payson is counting on a low-cost, long-term federal loan to cover the cost of completing the $34 million to $50 million project.