SRS level low but to increase next fiscal year

Idaho County to receive $6M

What payments did our neighbors get?

SRS 2014 payments to neighboring counties:

Adams: $723,369 ($1.43 per acre on 506,723 acres); Clearwater: $1,138,538 ($1.42 on 800,986 acres); Lemhi: $1,733,904 ($0.84 on 2,065,557 acres); Lewis: $5.36 ($0.60 on nine acres); and Valley: $1,861,233 ($0.91 on 2,035,422 acres).

Coming in at a five-year funding low for Idaho County, Secure Rural Schools (SRS) appropriations were reauthorized by Congress late last month.

But things, as well as dollar amounts, are looking better for the upcoming fiscal year.

“This year was pretty low,” said Lindsay Nothern, communications director for Senator Mike Crapo, “but it’s coming up in the next fiscal year to where it’s historically been. Unless there’s an issue with the appropriations committee.”

For fiscal year 2016, which begins Oct. 1, county payments funding — SRS, as well as PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), which compensates states for nontaxable public lands within their jurisdictions — Nothern said would “raise substantially.”

Dropping the anxiety level in the short-term for rural community budgeting, more than $6 million will flow into Idaho County with Congressional reauthorization of SRS (Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act).

This is the largest county distribution in the State of Idaho that overall received just more than $23 million on a total 20,396,605 acres of public lands within its jurisdiction. New language in the reauthorization will lock-in the allocation elections made by counties for fiscal year 2013 for the following two fiscal years.

The payments from the Forest Service may be used to support public schools and public roads, for projects to help maintain and improve the health of forests; and for county projects including “Firewise Communities” programs, reimbursements for emergency services on national forests, and development of community wildfire protection plans.

Nationwide, more than $285 million will go to 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico this year in support of local schools and roads. Idaho ranks third in the top five states receiving payments, behind California ($30.97 million; average $1.49 per acre) and Oregon ($58.49 million; $3.86 per acre).

Idaho County’s FY2014 $6,497,019 payment was based on a total 4,439,482 acres of public lands within its jurisdiction, comprised of five national forests, at an average $1.46 per acre. The majority of the county’s payment comes from more than three million acres on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests that contributed more than $4.5 million to its total payment.

Within the last five year’s payments, Idaho County has seen its share decrease more than 21 percent, based on the high of $8,259,193 (at $1.86 per acre) in 2010. The county’s total public lands acreage, as calculated in the SRS formula, has since 2012 increased by 7,677 acres.

Had SRS not been reauthorized, states would have received funds under the 1908 act requiring 25-percent payments based on a 7-year rolling average of receipts from national forests located in the state. For this year’s payment, Idaho would have received $2.19 million, more than a 90 percent decrease, of which Idaho County’s share would have been nearly 96 percent less at $276,273.

“County payments are a no-brainer for us,” Nothern said, but it can’t stop here, because as rural communities have seen, such issues can fall on a political whim. Crapo’s office will also be working on efforts to restore economic activity back to rural communities, part of which is with the Clearwater Basin Collaborative that provides for both timber harvest and environmental restoration. “And the most controversial of all,” he continued, “to continue to investigate the state taking over management of federal lands.”

Efforts to support county payments have become more difficult as this issue has become entangled with efforts on the controversial proposals for state management and/or control of federal lands. Work also needs to continue, according to Nothern, with legislators in the eastern states – areas with comparatively less public lands within their jurisdictions – who don’t realize the importance of these payments to western rural communities such as Idaho County.

The senator’s view is federal government policies had a hand in hurting rural economies and so they should also have a hand in restoring these. County payments are, “basically a property tax, and the federal government should care for those lands.”

Retaining and improving the timber-based economy rural counties used to have and rely upon, and improving the county payments program: “We need to work on both of these,” he said.

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