FARMINGTON — San Juan County will get about $2.2 million this year from a federal program that compensates local governments for incorporating large amounts of public land, but local officials question the program's continuity.
Since 2008, the county has received about $14.4 million from the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, taking in about $2 million each year. County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county relies on the funds to operate.
But Congress has not yet authorized future PILT payments, though the Department of the Interior has requested that legislators reauthorize 2015 funding.
PILT money compensates counties that include large tracts of federal land, such as land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Forest Service.
Counties cannot build on those lands nor collect property taxes on them. Only 6.5 percent of San Juan County is private land, and the rest is tribal, federal and state government land, according to county documents.
This year, about 1,900 local governments nationwide are getting $436.9 million in PILT funds, the Department of the Interior announced this week.
Congress in 2008 authorized PILT program funding to 2012, and it was extended each year after that. But county officials say it's an unstable source of revenue.
This year's PILT payment is about 7 percent of the county's $30 million general fund, Deputy County Executive Officer Linda Thompson said.
Without PILT payments, Carpenter said, "We would have to rearrange some things. To what extent? I can't give you an exact answer." But he added, "It would put a dent. No question about it."
On Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., announced the $36.6 million PILT payment to counties in New Mexico is more than 8 percent greater than the previous year, according to a news release from Udall's press office.
"I fought hard to make sure these critical payments continued this year," Udall said in the press release, "and I will keep fighting until they are permanently funded."
Jennifer Talhelm, Udall's spokeswoman, said the senator is a member of a congressional coalition trying to permanently fund the PILT program.
Udall's Republican challenger in the general election, Allen Weh, said this year's PILT payment is finally close to its level in 2008.
"That said," he said in a prepared statement, "it's also unfortunate that more of New Mexico's land than ever — 44 percent — is now owned by the federal government and not New Mexicans."