Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, April 28, 2023 @ 4:14 p.m. / Local Government

Borges Questions $35,700 Donation Tied to Group That Advocates For Federal Dollars to Rural Counties

Public lands, like the Smith River National Recreation Area, make up much of Del Norte County. | Courtesy of the Six Rivers National Forest


National Association of Counties request

Del Norte staff report


Though 80 percent of Del Norte consists of public land, at least one county supervisor was skeptical about donating more than $35,700 in general fund dollars toward the National Center for Public Lands Counties.

Spearheaded by the National Association of Counties and the Western Interstate Region, the National Center for Public Lands Counties seeks to keep the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools and Roads programs off the Congressional chopping block.

But though his colleague Chris Howard pointed that out Tuesday and stated that Del Norte relies on those dollars, District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges asked if the county has a lobbyist that can advocate for those programs.

“We are taking general fund dollars and donating them to a national advocacy group, I guess, or a national program,” Borges told his colleagues. “I don’t quite understand what we’re getting for that.”

Borges agreed to table the issue until Board Chairman Darrin Short, who was absent Tuesday, could participate in the discussion. Vice Chair Valerie Starkey asked staff to reach out to Del Norte County Superintendent of Schools Jeff Harris since the school district receives SRS dollars.

Del Norte and other counties that have sizable swaths of federal lands, including national parks and national forests, receive Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, dollars to offset the loss in property tax revenue.

SRS dollars also offset the loss in tax revenue that resulted from the proliferation of U.S. Forest Service lands.

Del Norte County received $900,000 in federal PILT dollars last year and $820,000 the year before, Auditor-Controller Clinton Schaad told the Outpost on Friday.

As for SRS money, which goes to the county’s Road Division, Del Norte received $537,000 last year and $410,000 the year before, Schaad said. He said he wasn’t familiar with the National Center for Public Lands Counties and had hoped to speak with county supervisors before its May 9 meeting to get a better understanding.

According to Howard, by establishing the National Center for Public Lands, NACo wants to provide a long-term data set that allows counties to “lobby more effectively about the impacts of having public lands in our backyard.”

“Showing those impacts through hard data versus anecdotal information is what this is about,” he told his colleagues. “Without NACo’s push PILT counties would never see these dollars.”

NACo seeks to raise $15 million for the National Center for Public Lands Counties. California Counties are asked to donate 1 percent of their Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund allocation, which was awarded through the American Rescue Plan Act, according to Del Norte County’s staff report.

The California State Association of Counties will collect those donations and pass them along to NACo, according to the report.

According to the statement NACo made to each county regarding the National Center for Public Lands Counties, the $15 million will be used over the next two years to hire staff to conduct its research.

“Right now many counties throughout the State of California and the western region are having these very discussions like we are today,” Howard told his colleagues Tuesday. “If they don’t hit their funding goal, then no harm, no foul, the money stays in our budget.”

Though he was happy to wait until Short could participate in the discussion, Howard said Congress has considered cutting the PILT and SRS programs multiple times since he became a county supervisor in 2014.


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