Friday, January 2, 2015

County anxiously awaits to see if SRS will slip through Congress one more year

By Elizabeth Morgan

Several articles have appeared in the media lately regarding the chances of reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) by Congress this next year. The issue was at a standstill when Congress broke for the holidays and will resume in January.

The Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program was created in 2000 to help counties fund the services they could no longer afford because of lost tax revenue. Thirty-five of 44 Idaho counties receive SRS payments, and Idaho ranks third in the country in total SRS dollars. But the program was always intended as a safety measure until Congress could find a more permanent solution.

The White House threatened a veto on the last bill from House Republicans calling for an increase in logging across all national forests. Opponents said it would jeopardize the habitat of endangered species, increase lawsuits and limit the president’s ability to create national monuments.

Hopefully, the break will allow both sides to entertain proposals somewhere in the middle that will provide a viable solution.

Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert said, “The county wouldn’t feel the impact immediately. Primarily, county roads and the Sheriff’s Office would be affected if some compensation isn’t made. There are a lot of counties in Idaho that will be in a bad way if it doesn’t come through.”

Ebert hopes to have an answer within the next month, “However, I will not be surprised if it should take longer,” he said.

The county will receive Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funds for this year.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) reported earlier this month that lawmakers appointed $372 million for PILT in its end-of-year spending package for 2015.

“Because National Forest counties are entitled to more PILT funding, the two programs are closely linked,” wrote Brian Namey with NACo. “Without securing full SRS funding before PILT payments are disbursed in mid-2015, there will be a significant impact on the funds available for all counties with federal lands.”

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