Missoula Current: Missoula to receive $2.3M in payment for federal lands; $36M across Montana

by Martin Kidston

Counties across western Montana and beyond will receive an estimated $36 million in funding this fiscal year to provide a number of services, from policing to road maintenance.

The revenue, known as payments in lieu of taxes, is often hit and miss, with more coming in some years and hundreds of thousands of dollars less in others. The funding is intended to offset the loss of property taxes in counties that have an abundance of federally-owned lands.

Sens. Steve Daines and John Tester announced the funding last week.

“PILT funding is critical for counties across our state that rely on it to provide important services they otherwise would not be able to afford,” said Tester. “I fought to secure this funding to help Montana counties rebuild schools, plow the roads, keep law enforcement officers on the beat, and perform other duties critical to rural Montana.

This year, Missoula County will receive $2.2 million as compensation for the 904,000 acres of federal land within its borders. Ravalli County will receive $2.7 million for its 1.1 million acres of federal land.

Lake County is in line to receive $479,000 for its 175,000 acres.

“I’m glad to see this funding going to Montana communities where it will be put to good use,” Daines said in a statement. “The PILT program helps provide essential services in Montana’s rural counties, and I will continue to support this critical program.”

This year’s payment to Missoula County is more than $527,000 more than what it received in 2017. The funding supports a number of departments, from the County Attorney’s Office to facilities management.

The federal government has distributed more than $9 billion in PILT since 1977. While the funding has been less than authorized in some years, this year’s round of payments is nearly fully funded.

“It offsets our inability to put a tax on federally owned lands that have a forest on them,” county CFO Andrew Czorny said recently. “It would be a giant blow if those payments went away. The loss would be significant.”

Tester said he has urged Senate leadership to end the unpredictability in funding amounts and to find ways to make it more consistent. Over the last eight years, Missoula County’s portion of the funding has fluctuated from $1.5 million to $2.3 million, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“I will keep pushing to make sure those resources continue to be there so folks across the state can count on having the services they need to thrive,” Tester said.

PILT payments received by Missoula County

$1.5 million in 2014

$1.6 million in 2015

$1.6 million in 2016

$1.7 million in 2017

$2.3 million in 2018

$1.9 million in 1019

$2 million in 2020

$2.2 million in 2021