By Kay Braddock
It’s been a slow-boiling issue, but one that may be heating up if recent developments are any indication.
The fight to change the Payment in Lieu of Taxes formula has been a long and drawn out battle for Prairie County Commissioner Todd Devlin, but with his recent trip to Washington D.C. with Executive Director of Western Counties Alliance Mark Walsh to address the issue, Devlin reported movements in the right direction may be in the works to change the formula.
PILT are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes on public lands. In a county that boasts over 400,000 acres of public lands, there’s a lot to offset.
Devlin has long charged that the formula is unfair to rural counties like Prairie County because the formula is based on population rather than the number of acres within a county. But now he says he has discovered another, potentially even more erroneous defect to the way the PILT formula is being handled by the government agency.
While working on a new PILT formula last year, Devlin said he discovered that the current formula is being miscalculated.
He recently recalled this realization to attendees of Terry’s Lincoln Dinner at the community center.
“When I was putting together the formula, I found something accidentally,” Devlin explained. The error, which he now says he spent all night figuring out how it was miscalculated in the first place, has caused some counties to be grossly overpaid while others are being grossly underpaid.
It wasn’t long after the realization that he submitted a formal complaint to the Department of Interior regarding the error.
And it’s now beginning to get the attention of officials from the National Association of Counties along with those inside the Department of Interior.
According to their own rules, the Department of Interior has until the end of this month to respond to Devlin’s complaint. At which time he will have 30 days to respond to their response. From there the department can either send it to the federal appeals court or to a congressional oversight committee.
Either way, Devlin believes Washington D.C. officials who have looked at the formula can clearly see the error of the miscalculation and the millions of dollars of a headache it could potentially serve up to counties nationwide.
What will be done? If there is an error, Devlin believes the government agency may only have a few options to choose from.
Currently NACo officials have asked a board of county representatives, including Devlin, to meet and begin formulating a new PILT formula.