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Senator looks at federal forests

U.

Monday, October 11, 1999

U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine has co-sponsored a bill in Congress to return more money to counties that do not receive property taxes from federal lands.

The move comes shortly after Congress lifted a ban on future purchases of land by the Wayne National Forest in Ohio.

The bill – the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act – introduced by senators Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, guarantees counties with tax-exempt federal forests would receive revenue-sharing payments equal to the average of their highest three years of payments from such programs.

"The federal government has not been as generous with payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) to states and counties with large tracks of federal land," said Charles Boesel, spokesperson for Sen. DeWine. "The senator has said let’s return to where we were getting the highest returns and get the dollars back to the level they should be."

When the U.S. Forest Service was created, Congress enacted laws to share revenues from logging in order to compensate schools and local governments for loss of real estate taxes.

But logging and other forest revenues have experienced a sharp decline in recent years, Boesel said.

For example, Ohio’s Wayne National Forest counties received the highest payments in 1985, 1987 and 1989, with a total average of $180,100 per county, he said. The average since 1996 has been about $14,000.

The new legislation would return county revenue shares to near that much needed $180,000, DeWine said.

"An increase in federal payments is important for Ohio families balancing educational needs and the desire to preserve and protect our country’s great natural resources such as the Wayne," he said.

DeWine also worked this year to include a provision in the Senate Fiscal Year 2000 Interior Appropriations bill that would provide for a $10 million increase in the PILT program, with a total U.S. fund balance of $135 million.

The Senate approved the appropriations package Sept. 23.