GRANGEVILLE — The checks are in the mail to rural counties that depend on federal payments to supplement school and road budgets.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced distribution of more than $215 million to 41 states and Puerto Rico under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
According to Forest Service data, the state of Idaho will receive $21.3 million. Idaho County is the largest recipient in the state at nearly $6 million, or an average of $1.34 an acre from six national forests whose boundaries are within the county.
Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said Wednesday the county has not yet seen the check but it is expected within the week.
“I knew it was coming from what I’m hearing,” Brandt said. “From the county’s perspective it’s only with regards to roads and bridges because it is not a (Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes) payment, which goes into the general fund. SRS is only focused on highway districts.”
Clearwater County is scheduled to receive about $1.1 million, or an average payment of $1.44 an acre from two national forests.
Portions of the distribution that will go to school districts in Idaho and Clearwater counties could not be determined Wednesday because spokesmen for the districts were not available.
Since 1908, 25 percent of Forest Service revenues from timber sales, mineral leases, recreation, grazing and other sources have been shared with states and counties in which national forest lands are located. In the 1980s, Forest Service revenues began to decline, largely as a result of diminished timber sales volume.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 authorized enhanced and gradually declining payments. Payments were most recently reauthorized for fiscal years 2019 and ‘20 by the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020.
Over the past 10 years, the Forest Service has distributed $2.6 billion through the SRS program.
Brandt said the SRS money is a critical supplement to the county’s road and bridge department, as well as the 13 independent highway districts in the county.
“It’s important because in Idaho County we don’t levy any taxes for the road and bridge district,” Brandt said. “So this is just plugging that usual hole, no matter what the economy does.”
Other money for roads and bridges comes from the state gas tax. With gas prices falling and fewer people out on the highways due to the coronavirus stay-home orders, “that portion could be a little less with people not driving and using gas as much,” Brandt said.
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