Some of the funding provided to Lincoln County to compensate for non-taxable federal lands such as the Lincoln National Forest is on recall. The federal government's sequestration order will impact counties across the country.

"Oh my goodness," was the response from Lincoln County Com_mission Chair Jackie Powell.

County Manager Nita Taylor told commissioners last week that she had received a correspondence from the New Mexico Association of Counties warning that sequestration would require the return of some Secure Rural Schools Act payments.

"New Mexico counties, and in all states, are being requested to return funds already distributed under the SRS Act," Taylor said. "This is supposedly due to the FY 13 sequester effective on March 1st. However, the agency made no mention of an impact on SRS payments until March 20th."

Taylor said the NMAC correspondence indicated a letter of protest requesting a stop to the action was signed by a number of members of Congress, including Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM.

Taylor said the SRS impact to Lincoln County would be about $26,000.

"The impact to all of New Mexico is about $600,000 based on the information that Paul (Gutierrez, with NMAC) sent out," Taylor said. "The good news, and it must be, is it won't impact the money we get for the roads because that's about $100,000. So there's no way Lincoln County could get $100,000 and the total state impact be $600,000."

The Secure Rural Schools payments are used by Lincoln County to fund the Firewise program.

In a March 6 letter from U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar, counties were warned that federal budget cuts would impact the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

"Based on the president's report to Congress, there will be a 5.1 percent reduction in the PILT program, reducing 2013 payments to counties by this amount," Salazar wrote. "In 2012, the total payments to over 1,850 counties were $393 million."

Salazar said he was unable at that time to determine the amount each county would be cut.

For federal fiscal year 2012, Lincoln County was to receive $1.527 in PILT payments.

The chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, has questioned the legal authority of the Forest Service to ask for the refunds.

"The Forest Service distributed the majority of those funds in January of this year," Hastings said. "To decide three months later, and 20 days after the sequester took effect that funds authorized by Congress nearly a year ago and paid out three months ago are subject to sequester is not only legally questionable, but another obvious example of the Obama Administration going out of its way to make spending cuts as painful as promised."

Another warning letter was sent out in late March to 41 states. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said 5.1 percent of the money disbursed must be returned.

The PILT program offsets losses in property taxes because of tax exempt federal lands. PILT payments help local governments maintain services such as police protection and firefighting, schools and roads, search-and-rescue operations, and some other activities.

"Here again, it's another cut to the counties that are already getting beaten up," Gutierrez said on April 11. "It means less for schools and roads in rural areas."

Gutierrez said rural New Mexico counties like Lincoln Catron, and Grant will be especially hurt by the move. He added the Forest Service decision came as a surprise.

"The only good thing is that we've told our counties in the past to use this money as if it's a one-time appropriation, that if you lost it, you could still get by," Gutierrez said. "But it still hurts."