MISSOULA – A financially struggling western Montana county that is made up of 82 percent U.S. Forest Service land is sending the federal government a $445,000 tax bill to help pay for schools and other services.
“It may or may not be taken seriously, but I think there’s a pretty good chance it will ring true with a lot of people about this dire situation we’re going to have to deal with sooner or later,” said Roman Zylawy, chairman of the three-member Mineral County commission.
County officials wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue saying the government has failed its obligation to the county where it manages 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometers) of land. Less than 8 percent of Mineral County’s land is in private, taxable ownership, the Missoulian reported Monday.
The federal government has previously paid the county with logging proceeds, payments in lieu of taxes and the Secure Rural Schools Act, which paid the county more than $1 million. The last two years, the federal government has gone back to payments based on logging proceeds, but officials say that provided only $66,000 due to minimal timber sales.
The Montana Department of Revenue helped come up with the $445,000 figure.
“It’s prudent to send (the letter) and at least get the dialogue going,” Denley Loge, a state legislator from St. Regis, said before Friday’s vote to approve the letter.
The commission’s letter to Purdue, whose agency oversees the U.S. Forest Service, said President Donald Trump has done “an admirable job defining and taking action on the ‘Bad Deals’ negotiated in the past on behalf of the United States. This is a ‘Bad Deal’ for the rural communities in our country (and) must be renegotiated,” the letter said.
The county can’t continue to operate under its current financial burden, Zylawy argued.
Mineral County proposes $300,000 of the tax proceeds would go to the St. Regis School District with another $186,000 for the school levy. About $41,000 is for public safety. The county has trouble retaining employees due to low wages and the jail was closed for a time this winter due to a lack of officers.