U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner introduced a new bill into Congress on Friday designed to increase federal payments to smaller counties.
The Colorado Republican, along with fellow GOP U.S. Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, introduced what they are calling the Small County PILT Parity Act, a measure designed to increase payments in lieu of taxes to smaller counties that have large sections of land controlled by the federal government.
PILT money is designed to compensate local governments that have smaller tax bases because of federal lands within their jurisdictions, which are not subject to local property taxes.
"The current PILT formula doesn't take into account the financial strain on counties with small populations," Gardner said. "That means counties like Hinsdale County in Colorado, boasting a population of less than 1,000 with 96 percent of its lands public, are shortchanged. Counties that have a limited tax base as a result of federal acreage need to be properly compensated, and the PILT Parity Act will make sure that happens."
The three-page bill simply alters the existing PILT law that sets the formula for payments. It lowers the definition of small counties from 5,000 to 1,000.
In Colorado, 14 counties have populations of less than 5,000, three of which — Hinsdale, Mineral and San Juan counties — are under 1,000.
Given that Congress routinely underfunds PILT payments — and has lost lawsuits as a result — it is unknown if Gardner's bill will end up reducing payments to larger counties that have high federal acreage, such as Mesa and Garfield, so those less-populated counties would see more money.
Gardner's office said that the bill would create four new population tiers, allowing low population counties — those with less than 5,000 residents — to receive higher PILT payments. The bill does not call for an increase in federal appropriations to cover any increase in PILT payments to smaller counties.