February 18, 2007

S.B. County may lose $329K on budget cut

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin [Ontario, CA]
By Jeff Horwitz, Staff Writer

San Bernardino County officials have complained for years that the federal government doesn't pay enough for its untaxed parks and land holdings.

This year, Uncle Sam may be feeling even less generous.

Under a Bush administration proposed budget cut, rural counties would lose a total of $42 million in compensation from the Department of the Interior's Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

"This isn't the first time in recent years that it's been proposed to be cut," said 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, whose district encompasses most of the federal land.

The money goes toward county fire service, he said.

Assuming the hit were shared equally, San Bernardino County would see its 2006 share of $1.8 million decline by $329,000.

Many of the proposed cuts are likely to be removed by Congress, Jim Lindley, the county's legislative affairs director, said.

"It's an issue Congress never wants to deal with," he said.

Even if the proposed cuts don't occur, Lindley said, the county will still be lobbying for a simplification of the program's funding formulas that might benefit the county.

"We have some very receptive members of Congress, but it takes more than a handful," Lindley said.

More than 8.3 million acres of San Bernardino County land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks and other branches of the federal government. That's an area equivalent to 12,988 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Maryland.