County joins suit against Interior

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Covington County Commission agreed to join a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, alleging that it did not receive full monetary amounts from the Payments in Lieu of Taxes in fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The lawsuit developed after Kane County, Utah, officials filed two lawsuits in 2017 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the federal government for being “underpaid” through the PiLT program.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries.

In Covington County there were 54,845 acres of federal land in 2015 and 2016, and 54,843 acres of federal land in 2017.

Covington County Commission Administrator Karen Sowell said that all of the land is under the National Forest System.

According to the class action lawsuit, in fiscal years 2015 through 2017, the amount set aside by Congress for PiLT payments was insufficient to satisfy all statutory PiLT obligations. So, the Department of the Interior paid out the available funds on a pro-rata basis.

In 2015, Covington County received $19,734 by the PiLT program, which was significantly lower from what they received in 2016 at $33,298. In 2017, the amount was also lower at $20,234.

PiLT funding is based on population, receipt sharing payment and federal lands within a county. That money is then used to support schools, road construction and public safety.

County attorney Stephanie Cotton said that it is unclear how much the county is owed, but the county will not have to pay to join the lawsuit and all participating counties will be represented by a law firm in Washington D.C.

“When I started looking at it, I noticed that that it didn’t promise a certain amount of money,” Cotton said. “It may be $100 or it may be $150,000, but what I do know is that we won’t have to pay for representation.”

Cotton said that joining the lawsuit would be beneficial for Covington County.

“I think joining this would be a great benefit for the county,” Cotton said. “I am glad we were made aware of this and were invited to join.”

The commission also:

  • Approved a resolution appointing current administrator, Karen Sowell, as a Certified County Administrator.
  • Approved to be a sponsor for the Babe Ruth South Regional Tournament by donating $1,000.