Local Governments Rely On Federal Payments, Welcome PILT Dollars from Zinke Visit

Jun 27, 2018

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signs his name to a PILT, Payment In Lieu of Taxes, "check" that is doled out to Montana's local government officials during his brief stop in Billings. Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund, L, and Ravalli County Commissioner Greg Chilcott, R, are holding up the "check."
Credit Jackie Yamanaka/YPR

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to Montana brought news that the federal government was paying its full share of money to local governments help offset their property taxes losses because there’s federal lands within their jurisdictions.

“So today I’m signing a check,” said Zinke. “55 local governments (in Montana) are receiving a total of $40.1 million. That’s up from last year of $8.3.”

Then Zinke turned and with a Sharpie signed his name to a big cardboard check and posed for a group picture with the local government officials on hand before leaving out a side door.

Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley welcomed the news. He said Beaverhead is the state’s largest county by area with 70% of the land federally owned.

“So PILT payments, Payment In Lieu of Taxes, which we look at as property taxes is gigantic,” he said. “So 2 million acres translates in our formula to $800,000 to Beaverhead County.”

He said the money helps pay for law enforcement and roads, including those that access those federal lands.

McGinley says PILT combined with the Secure Rural Schools payment from the U.S. Forest Service make up 40% of Beaverhead County’s budget.

Ravalli County Commissioner Greg Chilcott said his county receives about $3 million – or 20% - of its annual budget from PILT. He said local governments depend on these dollars, but they’re never sure if the federal government is going to make its payments.

“We consider PILT and Secure Rural Schools funding ‘soft money’ and we would really hope in the future we could have some predictability and dependability on those numbers,” Chilcott said.

He said Congress could do that by writing those payments into law.