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Legislators seek full federal land payments

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Chaves County receives annual payments from the federal government for Bureau of Land Management properties, U.S. Fish and Wildlife parcels and other federal land in its borders. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Chaves County expects to receive its full allotment of federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, for the 2022 fiscal year, according to County Manager Bill Williams.

He said the county had taken a conservative approach and budgeted $3 million for fiscal year 2021-22, which begins July 1, although the county has preliminary information that it could receive as much as $3.4 million.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we pulled that back for this year,” Williams said. “We do expect to be fully funded, although we never know for sure.”

PILT payments are administered by the U.S. Department of Interior to local governments for federal land within their borders since the federal government does not pay property taxes. The PILT payments are expected to help local governments pay for roads and infrastructure and schools; public safety; search-and-rescue functions; and other public services.

Twenty-six U.S. senators, including Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-Nambe) of New Mexico said they want to make sure Congress provides full funding for the 1,900 counties in 46 states and territories that receive PILT payments.

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A June 1 letter stated, “As cash-strapped counties across the country work to address budget cuts exacerbated by the pandemic, full-funding and a long-term solution for PILT is essential to provide certainty that the federal government will continue to uphold its long-standing commitment to public lands counties.”

Full funding was provided for fiscal year 2021 when the Consolidated Appropriations Act was signed into law in December. The county has not yet received that payment, but expects to within the coming weeks, Williams said.

He added that the amount the county has received has been trending upward most years. In 2005, the county was paid about $1.66 million by the federal government. From 2017 to 2020, it has been paid more than $3 million a year.

However, an anomaly occurred for a few years, 2015 to 2017, when Congress did not provide enough funding for the program to make full payments, so the department only made partial payments.

Chaves County was among the governments that joined in a class-action federal lawsuit that was decided in favor of the counties in November 2018, with the U.S. government dropping its appeal in 2019. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., had ruled that local governments must receive their full payments described by federal law even if Congress does not provide full appropriations. Payments are based on formulas that consider federal acreage, population, revenue-sharing agreements and other factors. The federal government also pays states for oil and gas activity, livestock grazing and other activities on its land.

As a result of the lawsuit, Chaves County received a settlement of about $82,000 after legal fees in October 2019.

According to an Interior Department website, Chaves County has 1.22 million acres of federal land for which it receives payment. A recent Chaves County document indicated that federal land represents about 1.3 million acres in the county, or about 34% of its total land.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.