SAGUACHE COUNTY — For the second year in a row, Saguache County has awarded 100 percent of Secure Rural Schools (SRS) forest revenue funds to Center, Moffat, Mountain Valley and Gunnison school districts.
Saguache County Treasurer Connie Trujillo confirmed that the following amounts were released to county schools Tuesday: Center Schools, $538,578.90; Moffat Schools, $204,609.40 and Mountain Valley School, $122,042.96. Earlier this year the schools received the first round of the SRS release, which amounted to $179,526.30 for Center, $68,203.00 for Moffat and $40,680.99 for Mountain Valley.
In the past, negotiations with the county for a fair share of the PILT/SRS funds has often been a long, drawn-out process and the ready availability of the money in 2018 and 2019 was a much-welcomed change.
Funding to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was included within the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law at the end of March 2018 for fiscal year 2017 and 2018. For these years, SRS provided $282 million and $257 million, respectively, to over 700 rural counties, parishes and boroughs across the nation.
According to Jonathan Shuffield, Associate Legislative Director for the National Association of counties, “There have not been any hearings on the SRS reauthorization legislation this year. However, there is a push among House and Senate members to include it in a final spending package for FY 2020.
“A recent letter from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jim Risch (R-ID) asks Senate leaders to include two years of PILT and SRS in the spending bill when it’s complete (the current deadline for a spending bill is Nov. 21). Both of the Colorado Senators signed the letter. Additionally, there is bipartisan letter circulating among House members that makes the same ask. That letter will close for signature Oct. 18.”
For over a century, counties with federal forests have received a portion of revenue from timber sales in those forests. In 1908, the Forest Service began paying counties 25 percent of timber revenues, and in 1937, the Bureau of Land Management began paying counties 50 percent of timber revenues.
Unfortunately, when timber revenues fluctuate due to changes in world timber markets and timber production declines so do the county payments. To combat these fluctuations and provide more secure funding for these rural counties, in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) was signed into law. SRS provides funding for rural schools, roads, rural infrastructure, law enforcement and other critical government services.
To replace SRS funding with timber harvest alone the Forest Service would have to increase timber harvest from 2.4 billion board feet per year to 16 billion board feet per year.
In April 2017, governors issued a statement imploring lawmakers to restore cuts made to the SRS program since 2015, asking that money be restored for SRS in the fiscal 2017 budget through to fiscal 2018 at previous levels.
Some $278 million in SRS funds were available in fiscal 2015 compared to $58 million in fiscal 2016. Nine million students in about 4,400 districts benefit from the funds. Owing to their timber product harvests on federal lands, Oregon, California, and Idaho see the most funds from the program.
Poor rural counties in southern Colorado also are dependent on the funds, especially in light of state of Colorado education funding cuts over the past several years.