Bailout windfall for county, schools

Local schools stand to receive about $500,000 in unanticipated extra federal revenue between 2009 and 2012, and the windfall comes as an unexpected by-product of the Oct. 3 federal bailout package, according to county finance director Don Warn and school district superintendent Mark DeVoti.

“It’s soft money. It’s a perfect opportunity to build up our reserves again. With declining enrollment we’ve tapped into reserves and had to amend budgets in order to avoid reserve spending,” said DeVoti.

Ostensibly drafted and adopted to shore up the country’s battered and beleaguered economy, the bill, known as H.R. 1424, or the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, carried with it a number of sweeteners, or riders, to garner maximum congressional support and ensure its passage.

Although many refer to the riders as “pork,” one sweetener attached to the bill, called the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Program, restores full funding to the Secure Rural Schools program and the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program — two federal program that can inject significant dollars into rural local economies.

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

According to documents provided by U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s office, the bill’s successful passage means Archuleta County will soon receive $325,121 as a “make up” payment for 2008, and about $800,00 in PILT funding through 2012.

But according to the rider in the bailout package, it’s not just the county coffers that will benefit.

According to Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte, when Warn was calculating how to maximize the county’s PILT disbursement — annual PILT disbursements are reduced by other federal funding the county receives the previous year — he learned of a win-win situation for the county and the school district.

By maximizing the county’s disbursement to the Secure Rural Schools program, of which the school district is the primary beneficiary, Warn said he realized he could then maximize the amount of federal PILT dollars the county receives.

“It’s kind of like paying your taxes. The more deductions you can take, the more money you can keep in your pocket,” Warn said. And Schulte added, “Choosing the path we chose, we keep the most money in the community.”

Although the formulas and mathematical calculations may prove mind numbing to the uninitiated, the result is boon for Archuleta School District 50 Jt.

Speaking to Warn and Schulte, DeVoti said, “How you two were able to dig down and decipher this, I don’t know, but thank you. What you’re doing for the children in this community is incredible.”

According to DeVoti and Warn, the district’s receipt of the federal money will not jeopardize any state funding the district currently receives.

However, although Warn anticipated a cool half million should soon bolster the district’s coffers, Warn said, “The money should come in as expected provided the federal government doesn’t change its mind.”

And DeVoti is pleased with the boon, but also remains well aware of the ephemeral nature of federal funding.

“It’s temporary money. If it does come in for five years, we might be looking at seed money for other opportunities and programs,” DeVoti said.

In addition to using the funds to leverage state grants, DeVoti said a portion of the funding could be used to establish a district facilities maintenance plan. However, DeVoti said the first strategy will be to use the money to replenish reserves.

Warn said PILT funds and Secure Rural Schools funds both go into the respective agency’s general funds, where they can be used for a variety of purposes. In addition, Warn said a portion of the federal money will go into the county’s road and bridge fund.

james@pagosasun.com