FARMINGTON — Funding for a federal program that pays for critical services in many Western counties -- including San Juan County -- was left out of the 2014 budget that Congress recently approved.

 

But New Mexico senators are working to get the "Payment in Lieu of Taxes," or PILT, funding included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

PILT is a program that compensates counties throughout the country for the federal land within their jurisdiction because local governments can't collect property taxes from the federal government.

In 2013, New Mexico received $34 million as part of the program.

San Juan County received more than $2 million last year, the sixth most of any county in the state, according to the Department of Interior's website.

The Bisti De-Na_Zin Wilderness area, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, is pictured Jan. 12 near N.M. Highway 371. San Juan County
The Bisti De-Na_Zin Wilderness area, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, is pictured Jan. 12 near N.M. Highway 371. San Juan County typically receives Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding for the federal land within its jurisdiction. Funding for the PILT program was left out of the 2014 budget Congress approved, and New Mexico legislators are now trying to get the funding into the Farm Bill. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

San Juan County Operation Officer Mike Stark said PILT money was about 6 percent of the county's tax revenue last year.

The San Juan County Commission approved a resolution Jan. 7 that asked lawmakers to fully fund the PILT program. Many county government boards in Western states, where there are large tracts of federal land, have issued similar resolutions.

"I think the resolution we passed, and the resolutions others have passed, are having an effect," San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said. "We need to be loud to our federal legislators. We need that money."

Fortner said PILT money is essential to San Juan County because it is one of several revenue cuts the county is facing.

The county will lose revenue from BHP Billiton's sale of Navajo Mine to the Navajo Nation, the closure of stacks at San Juan County power plants, declining natural gas production and even declining revenue at Sun-Ray Park and Casino, he said.

"We're being hit from every which way," Fortner said.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., joined a bipartisan group of senators in signing a letter to the Farm Bill conference committee requesting that PILT funding be included in this year's bill.

The letter states that PILT money is vital for counties to provide essential services like road maintenance, fire departments and emergency medical services.

Udall announced in a prepared statement on Thursday that he won a commitment from Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who said she would work with Udall to find funding for PILT.

"The counties count on the money because they've been getting it year after year," Udall said in a formal conversation on the Senate floor on Thursday. "And we just have to find a way to do this."

Ryan Boetel covers crime and San Juan County for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him @rboetel on Twitter.