Cottonwood trees in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area east of Sierra Vista. A plan for the federal government to pay counties for federal lands in lieu of property taxes has received bipartisan support in Congress.

BISBEE — A bipartisan effort to make permanent the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program in the U.S. Congress will help rural areas nationwide, including Cochise County, receive compensation.

In rural areas, where much of the land is owned by the federal government, the money helps offset property tax increases by helping pay for needed services. PILT is compensation to local governments for the inability to collect property taxes on federally owned lands.

This year, Cochise County was granted $1.2 million in PILT for 900,747 acres of national land owned by the Department of the Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

The funding has seen its ups and downs over the past several years and has created headaches for county administration during budget time as they wondered not only what amount the federal government would pay and when, but if they would get it at all.

Board of Supervisors members Peggy Judd, Ann English and Tom Borer are hopeful the measure will come to fruition.

“This is an exciting prospect,” Borer said. “Permanent funding is so important to Arizona counties because PILT payments are a significant percentage of our property-based revenues. For Cochise County, PILT revenue is more than eight percent of the annual revenue derived from land.

“This act will give the counties recurring revenue that can be depended on each year, greatly boosting their ability to meet fiscal needs of each of their departments.”

Judd remarked, “Cochise County is wonderfully located in the beautiful western part of the United States, but that also puts us in jeopardy as a public body. So much of our county is public land and therefore not taxed. The Payment in Lieu of Taxes is essential to our rural counties and having the program be permanent is a very exciting prospect.”

English said, “Each year we have worked to convince congressional delegates to appropriate money to offset the fact we get no tax from federal lands located within our counties. It certainly is not the same amount of tax dollars we would receive if the land were privately owned, but, it is an amount that helps us to keep the tax rate lower on private property.”

Now, thanks to efforts of U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and fellow democratic Arizona legislators Reps. Greg Stanton, Ruben Gallego and Tom O’Halleran and others, there is an act being put forward to make PILT permanent and end the uncertainty.

Kirkpatrick stated in a press release, “In 2014, PILT funding was not included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act. While the funding was eventually included in the 2014 Farm Bill, this sort of uncertainty is exactly why we must make the PILT program permanent.

“Failure to do so could have devastating effects on local governmental ability to deliver essential services throughout many of our communities. Every county in Arizona relies on PILT payments to help meet their needs, it is time to make this program permanent.”

The act has support from both sides of the aisle, she added.

Arizona U.S. Rep. and Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (R), suggests on the caucus website, “It comes down to a simple choice for the federal government — either give rural communities the funds promised to us, or give us back our land.”

Judd pointed out, “The current administration is also working tirelessly to allow the use of our public lands for recreation and even profitable ventures such as tourism, mining and logging. This is also a way for our rural areas to benefit from public land use. I support that, as appropriate, and as long as the conditions and local communities are favorable.”

English said, “If this act makes it to the finish line, it is a big win for counties west of the Mississippi who have federal lands.”

Borer commented, “ I see this is a welcomed action, much needed, and much appreciated.”

The act has also received support from the Arizona Association of County Supervisors. Jen Marson, Executive Director of the Arizona Association of Counties noted, “Revenue that Arizona’s counties receive in PILT is a crucial component in helping counties help Arizonans. PILT was a mandatory classification through 2014 and we are grateful that Congresswoman Kirkpatrick is working to ensure that this vital program is permanently funded.”

Judd noted,”I am grateful to the Congresswoman for her efforts.”

Borer said, “Representative Kirkpatrick’s effort and success in gaining bipartisan support is very encouraging. I look forward to seeing the PILT act become permanent.”

Kirkpatrick will continue to gather support for the Permanently Authorizing PILT Act to see that it becomes law and asks voters to contact legislators to add their weight behind the legislation.

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