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Colorado senators urge rural PILT funds be reauthorized

Rural funding is set to expire

Democratic and Republican senators came together last week to request in a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders a two-year reauthorization of payments in lieu of taxes and the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act programs.

The PILT program was established to aid rural areas because counties abundant with federal land cannot collect property taxes from the government. PILT expires at the end of fiscal year 2019, and with the services that it provides to rural areas, like law enforcement, mental health programs and libraries. Lawmakers urged the Senate to consider it in an end-of-the-year package.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, introduced legislation Sept.16 to reauthorize PILT for 10 additional years. In a news release, both said the funds were “critical” for infrastructure and law enforcement in Colorado towns.

“This legislation is a commonsense step to reauthorize the program, so that we can continue to fully fund PILT and meet the needs of our counties,” Bennet said.”

Gardner echoed that thought.

“It’s important that Congress fully funds this program, which is used for critical services like law enforcement and infrastructure investments,” he said.

The Secure Rural Schools program expired at the end of fiscal year 2018, and lawmakers urged inclusion of the program in any end-of-the-year funding package. The program has served over 775 counties in more than 40 states by helping fund schools, road maintenance and law enforcement, and, the letter said, schools, libraries and jails will close if funding is omitted.

“As we work to establish a permanent county payments solution, diversify rural economies ... and ensure that our public lands provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, grazing opportunities, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term reauthorization of at least two years is critical ... for counties containing federally owned lands,” the letter stated.

Reauthorization has received support from Colorado counties. In a news release, Colorado Counties President Mark Roeber called PILT funding “absolutely critical.”

Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Journal. She can be reached at asheffey@durangoherald.com.

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