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Rural Counties Cheer Parts of New Federal Budget

National Association of Counties

Rural counties in the Northwest are cheering the president’s signature on the new federal budget today (Friday). That budget funds two programs that have helped counties with large amounts of untaxable federal land, especially national forests.

The Secure Rural Schools and Payment of Lieu of Taxes — or PILT — programs help rural counties provide services. The schools program needed to be reauthorized.

For county commissioners like Mark Peck, in Lincoln County in northwestern Montana, the money may help to put off some difficult decisions. Peck spoke this week at a conference in Coeur d’Alene. He says nearly 80% of his county’s land is owned by federal or state agencies. That means the county can’t collect property tax for it.

With payments from the federal government sometimes dwindling, Peck says many rural counties are in difficult financial shape.

“I think in Lincoln County, we’re in better shape than a lot. But we’re just hitting the critical point where, in the next year or two, if we don’t see some turnarounds, it’s no more trimming toenails or taking toes off. We’re going to start whacking limbs, as far as services go,” Peck said.

According to the National Association of Counties, Peck’s county received nearly four million dollars from the two programs in 2016. Had the schools program not been reauthorized, Lincoln County may have received less than a half million dollars.

Several counties in eastern Washington and northern Idaho also rely heavily on money from those two programs.