By Sara Price
Ken Brown, a representative of the Western Counties Alliance addressed Emery County commissioners during their meeting Oct. 22, to discuss budgetary progress, current projects, and update Emery County on current membership.
He began his presentation with the disclosure that he did not have good news for commissioners. PILT, or payments in lieu of taxes, has received funding for the coming year, but the amount has not been disclosed yet. Some senators have declared these payments as the “western welfare program,” according to Brown.
He stated that this is not true. These are payments in place of property taxes for federal land in western states. PILT funding makes visiting rural places possible. It covers road maintenance, facilities, ambulance services as well as law enforcement for federal land provided by local counties.
According to Brown, without PILT funding counties would lose 38 percent of their yearly revenue. WAC is pushing for mandatory funding of the PILT program, which would secure it for rural areas instead of having a constant battle for funding.
Brown went on to address SRS, or secure rural schools, funds. They dropped 37 percent this upcoming year for Emery County. This was due to the Hunter Power Plant overhaul. Wages for their employees rose per capita income by 30 percent. This was a one-year spike for the area with little to none of these revenues going to local citizens.
Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Washington, along with Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, are working as co-sponsors on a bill reintroducing the lumber industry to the west. The lumber industry has been denied access to federal lands, which nearly brought the industry to a complete stop.
Brown was excited about the support behind this bill, which has been lumped in with several other states with lumber interests. Brown assured commissioners that this bill was a good thing for the county and looks forward to continued support.
He mentioned geothermal energy as a good clean source of energy, which Emery County has yet to utilize. Iron, Beaver, Millard, and Juab counties all have operations working at harvesting this untapped energy. Other states such as California and Nevada are heavily invested in geothermal energy.
Brown stated that WAC is also supporting the land transfer movement. He reported on a meeting he attended concerning this issue. A state representative from South Carolina expressed his interest and stated that there was a lot of support for this move in many eastern states. He also cautioned Brown that if western states wanted to successfully transfer land from Federal ownership to state ownership they would need national support. Brown was surprised at how many states were represented at this meeting and was pleased that this issue is gaining attention and support from other states not directly affected by it.
Brown also addressed the slaughter program as a means of dealing with high populations of wild horses and burros. Currently, land officials are required to ship wild horses and burros to either Canada or Mexico for processing.
With the reinstatement of the program, this will allow the states to deal with overpopulation. “Extremists” damaged a processing plant in Roswell, N.M., said Brown, which cost the meat processing plant a lot of money.
Permits are being granted to Nebraska and Missouri, which will help with the problem. Brown expressed frustration over those who attend meetings and feel that wild horse and burro damage to public land is negligible. He said they work to shift the blame on cattle even when proof is presented. He stated that wild populations have a high impact on the land, and like every other species their numbers need to be managed.
Membership rates for the WAC have risen with five counties in Arizona joining the non-profit organization. Brown expressed excitement over this change because this is the first year any county in Arizona has participated. Arizona is looking to WAC to create a 2477 workshop, which deals with roads. This will help rural Arizona move forward on this issue.
Counties in Montana, Nevada, Colorado, and Idaho have also joined the WAC. He offered a full membership to Emery County at the cost of $3,000, noting that it originally began at $7,500. Emery County was not able to invest the full $3,000 at this time, but continued its support at $500 in order to maintain partial membership.