Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, May 12 @ 12:11 p.m. / Environment, Local Government
Del Norte Supervisors OK $35,777 Donation to Group That Advocates For Federal Dollars to 'Public Lands Counties'
• Borges Questions $35,700 Donation Tied to Group That Advocates For Federal Dollars to Rural Counties
Del Norte will join counties in Utah, Arizona, Montana and Nevada in donating money toward an endeavor to create a National Center for Public Lands Counties.
But District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges was still skeptical, saying Tuesday that Del Norte already employs a lobbyist and is already getting its federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools and Roads apportionment.
Though his colleague Chris Howard argued that having an organization that can supply actual data on those two programs is valuable, Borges asked what Del Norte County would be getting for the roughly $35,777 it would be donating toward the endeavor.
“The total amount they’re requesting is $15 million,” Borges said, referring to the the “voluntary investment” the National Association of Counties (NACo) is asking to hire research staff. “Are we getting $35,000 worth of fight out of that $15 million?”
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of donating the $35,777 to the National Center for Public Lands Counties. Borges dissented.
Spearheaded by the NACo and the Western Interstate Region, the National Center for Public Lands Counties seeks to keep the PILT and SRS programs off the Congressional chopping block.
The center aims to “demonstrate how prosperous public lands counties create a prosperous America.” It will create individually researched county profiles focusing on their partnerships with federal, state and tribal agencies, how they invest PILT and SRS dollars as well as what the different economic drivers in their communities are. This last focus will differentiate between rural and urban public lands counties.
The center will also look at how counties create natural resource management plans and highlight the value of the resources on federal lands compared to private land. About 800,000 acres in Del Norte County consists of the Smith River National Recreation Area, Howard said.
The $35,777 Del Norte is donating to the National Center for Public Lands Counties comes from the county’s contingency and advertising-promotion budget. It’s about 1 percent of the allocation the county received under the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund, which was awarded through the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the county’s staff report.
These federal ARPA dollars came to Del Norte County last fiscal year and, according to Howard, were allocated using the SRS and PILT equation. Del Norte and other counties with sizable swaths of federal lands receive PILT and SRS dollars to offset the loss in sales taxes from timber revenue.
Last year, Del Norte received $900,000 in federal PILT dollars last fiscal years and $820,000 the year before, according to Auditor-Controller Clinton Schaad. Del Norte received $537,000 in SRS dollars last year and $410,000 the year before. SRS money goes toward the county’s Road Division.
On Tuesday, both Howard and Board Chairman Darrin Short, who brought the matter before his colleagues for discussion, said both the PILT and SRS programs are often in danger of being cut.
According to Short, in Utah, all of its counties have donated toward the National Center for Public Lands Counties. Eleven out of 15 Arizona counties have come out in support as have 40 out of Montana’s 56 counties. Two in Nevada have weighed in so far, Short told his colleagues.
“If there was some fiscal effect on the county because of a decision that was made by the feds or the state, this entity would help us out with information about the impacts and what kind of effects it would have on the county,” Short said. “If that happened just one time, it would pay for this many times over. And, as far as the current PILT we’re receiving, if we missed one of those, it would pay for this small investment many times over.”
In the last eight years Howard has been a county supervisor, PILT and SRS payments have been on the chopping block at least twice.
He said he advocated for both programs in Washington D.C. in 2015 and 2016 as did representatives from other counties.
If those programs were cut, Howard said, counties would also have to “do your own roads and your own schools stuff.”
“We need data in order to argue our case to the feds and so this national center is essentially being formed to collect data to allow us to actually lobby,” Howard said, adding that having that information would make the job the county’s lobbyist, Greg Burns, does easier. “(It’s) actual physical data on the impacts of the loss of those revenues when they took that away from us many years ago when the (Smith River National Recreation Area) was formed.”
Nearly 70 percent of the total area of Del Norte County is comprised of federal lands, according to the 2023 Economic & Demographic Profile prepared for the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission. More than 8 percent is state-owned land, according to the profile.