Forest fees from last year have arrived just in time to top off fiscal year budgets to help Gila County roads and schools.
The Gila County Board of Supervisors voted to accept the distribution of the forest fees as suggested by Gila County Superintendent Linda O’Dell.
The beleaguered fee program provides $50,000 for road construction in Gila County, while schools will add a little more than $1.4 million to their budgets.
For the past few years the decades old Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program has faced stiff opposition in Congress. Originally Congress created PILT in the early 1900s to supplement property taxes forfeited as vast tracks of land turned into federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. These lands do not generate property taxes.
In a Hail Mary vote in October of 2013, Congress voted for another one-year reauthorization of the fees as part of the HR 527 Helium Stewardship Act, O’Dell told the supervisors.
“This is a one-year authorization, just now paid out,” said O’Dell. “There is no authorization for additional funding for next year.”
Even then, the federal government sent less money this year than last, shorting schools 11 percent or more, depending on their enrollment.
In contrast, roads received the same dollar amount they have for the last five years.
O’Dell said that her office distributes school money based on a formula that provides a base amount and then adds a bonus based on forest acreage and student enrollment.
“This was presented to the Superintendent’s Council,” said O’Dell. “They were pleased, but they understand the variations (from last year’s totals) are based on shifts in enrollment.
Some school districts increased enrollment, while others decreased.
This year, Payson Unified School District received $359,490. Last year the district received $377,035.
District officials say they’ve been told not to expect any more fees next year and so plan to budget the money mostly for one-time expenditures, like upgrading the district’s technology.