On July 2, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners met and discussed opting in to the class action against the US government concerning Payments In-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) monies. The board voted to opt in on the suit.
According to the Department of the Interior, “Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. The law recognizes the financial impact of the inability of local governments to collect property taxes on federally-owned land. PILT payments help local governments carry out such vital services as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations. The payments are made annually for tax-exempt federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (all bureaus of the Department of the Interior), the U.S. Forest Service (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and for federal water projects and some military installations.”
Back in 2008, Congress changed the PILT statute by requiring full funding through 2014. Congress also repealed the original statute verbiage that made the program discretionary and subject to an annual congressional appropriations process. Since the appropriations for 2015-2017 weren’t enough, PILT recipients did not receive the full amount due based on the Department of the Interior’s full payment calculation. The DOI’s website explains, “The formula used to compute the payments is contained in the PILT Act and is based on population, revenue- sharing payments, and the amount of federal land within an affected county.”
This class action lawsuit allows Lincoln County the ability to recover additional money for the three fiscal years of 2015 through 2017.
Sending the opt-in form before the deadline of September 14 allows the county to become one of the class members of the lawsuit. According to the lawsuit paperwork, the court has already ruled in favor of the federal government owing each class member money. Section 6902 of the PILT Act (Chapter 69, Title 31 of the U.S. Code), it declares, “PILT payments may be used by recipients (usually counties) for any governmental purpose and are not required to be further distributed to other local government units such as school districts or cities. Payment is typically made directly to the eligible local government, unless the state government chooses to enact legislation (under guidelines in section 6907 of the Act) to receive the payments and, in turn, may pass the money on to other smaller governmental units located within the counties.”
The class counsel is Mr. Alan I. Saltman, a partner from the firm of Smith, Currie, and Hancock, LLP, based out of Washington D.C. The class representative is Kane County, Utah. Participation in the lawsuit does not cost any money. The class counsel will ask for an award of attorney’s fees and expenses which will then be deducted from the awarded total which might reduce the amount of money distributed between the class members.
According to the paperwork, each class member will “receive the benefit of, and be bound by, all rulings, orders, judgements entered, or settlements approved by the court, whether favorable or unfavorable. You will not, however, be asked to make any out-of-pocket payment of attorney’s fees or expenses in the case.”
The opt-in paperwork also explained, “The court has not yet determined the amount by which the class as a whole, or any individual class member, was underpaid in those years. As of the date of this notice, class counsel and counsel for the government have agreed on the amount of the underpayment in fiscal years 2015 and 2016, and anticipate reaching agreement on the amount of the underpayment in fiscal year 2017. At this time, the parties do not know how long that will take, or whether there will be any appeal from the court’s decisions that could impact the entitlement, timing, or amount of any payments.”