Boise—There are big problems on the horizon for Idaho County if the Federal Government does not fund the Secure Rural Schools and Self Determination Act.
Idaho County is the 17th largest county in the United States with a population of just 16,000 residents. With more than 5.4 million acres of land, the county is broke because 85% of the county is public land. That means no tax revenue off that land for schools, roads, and bridges without federal SRS funding.
“This has hit all our school districts hard,” said Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brant. “Payments stopped years ago. Our County Road and Bridge budget is $3.4 million. Almost half the budget, $1.2 million comes from SRS and all 12 Highway districts in the county have lost funds.”
With another harsh winter setting in, Western senators are urging the Trump White House and the budget office to honor the federal government's promise to fund the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act.
The SRS grew out of the 2000 Craig-Wyden Bill to compensate rural counties for the decline in timber harvests in the national forests. SRS provides 775 rural counties and 4,000 schools with funds to support public services that include roads and forest health. PILT compensates local governments for non-taxable federal lands in their jurisdictions to provide roads maintenance and law enforcement.
“The funding to rural communities extends a lifeline by funding road repairs, schools and law enforcement to communities heavily dependent on the federal government to help with taxes,” said Crapo.
Senators Crapo and Ron Wyden of Oregon are encouraging the Trump administration for a two-year authorization of the SRS and Self-Determination Act.
“Secure Rural School payments are critical ensuring that counties across Idaho and the nation, that have tax-exempt, federally managed lands, have the funding necessary for schools, roads, bridges, forest management projects and public safety,” said Senator Crapo.
The payments expired last March, leaving counties without enough money to fund basic services like law enforcement, road repairs, and snow removal in rural areas.
“We stressed the importance of prioritizing the SRS program in the federal budgeting process,” said Crapo in a Town Hall meeting in Kamiah. “SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 4,400 schools throughout the country. In many cases, these ‘forest counties’ include massive swaths of public lands in national forests,” said Crapo.
Crapo and fellow Western Senators wrote to President Trump that they’re working in a bipartisan way to support strapped rural communities. The lack of certainty about SRS funding comes after another record fire season and rural unemployment at 7-percent in Idaho County.
“These county payments, are designed to offset the loss of the local share of timber sales revenue due to the drastic decline in timber harvests. Nearly 80 percent of Idaho’s counties receive county payments because of a large amount of national forest land in Idaho,” added Crapo.
Counties received their last SRS funds in March 2016. Since the program expired, residents in many of the counties that depend on this funding have had to choose between keeping schools and libraries open and laying off law enforcement.
A two-year extension is our goal in the short term,” said Senator Crapo, adding the long-term effort is a funding fix that provides rural counties stable funding that allows them to fund programs and move forward. Establishing a permanent solution, “that’s what our goal is,” he said.