By Garrett Estrada
Ely Times Staff Writer
In a major win for White Pine County, Payment In leau of Taxes, otherwise known as PILT, funding was extended one year after it passed through the Senate Wednesday morning as part of the Farm Bill.
The $400 million fund is dispersed to rural counties, mostly in the western United States, to compensate counties for federal lands that they can’t tax.
In a bi-partisan effort by Nevada Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller, with the assistance of Congressman Stephen Horsford, the PILT funding extension was extended one year so counties would continue to receive the money.
White Pine County Commission Chairman John Lampros said he was “ecstatic” after hearing the news of the extension.
“I’m totally delighted,” Lampros said. “We count on that money in our budget. We would have lost just over $1 million had the funding not been extended.”
Director for community and economic development Jim Garza said many small rural counties rely on the PILT funding when they form their budgets.
“The PILT funds are very important to many county communities across the nation. That money goes into emergency services and hospitals, Those funds can’t just be missed,” Garza said.
He also appreciated the work of the both Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller working on getting it passed by attaching it to the farm bill that already had support behind it.
“By working with his delegation, Reid showed that he supports communities like White Pine that need this funding, and that he understands how vital it is to the services in those communities,” Garza said.
he county cancelled its last meeting on Jan. 22 to send Garza to Las Vegas along with commissioners Mike Lemich and Richard Howe so they could hand-deliver a letter drafted by the county’s Director of Finance Elizabeth Francis to the offices of Reid, Heller and Horsford.
Lemich said while he was pleased to see the funding passed, he thinks it is unfair that rural counties have to wait in uncertainty for money that he called “imperative.”
“They are playing with our county and state land,” he said. “I don’t think we should be put in jeopardy like that. It’s like they are holding our rent money even though we are entitled to it.”
PILT funding makes up roughly 8 percent of the county’s budget, according to Lampros. Senator Reid said with the amount of land the federal government owns in Nevada, he knew how important it was for rural communities to be compensated.
“As a rural Nevadan, I know how important PILT funding is for our counties,” Reid said. “That’s why I worked to ensure this one-year extension was included in the Farm Bill agreement. It is a matter of fairness that in a state like Nevada, where the federal government owns over 85 percent of the land, our counties receive the revenue they deserve from this land.
“Counties are able to use these funds to provide vital services such as fire-fighting, law enforcement, and healthcare. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass the Farm Bill and extend this important program and I stand committed to ensuring PILT’s continued funding in the years to come.”