County will join federal lawsuit

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

Osage County commissioners voted 3-0 Monday to join in U.S. Court of Federal Claims litigation regarding funds that the U.S. government failed to pay to units of local government.

A judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ruled that Kane County, Utah, and other eligible units of local government are entitled to additional payments for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years under the terms of the federal Payment In Lieu of Taxes Act.

The act, which dates back to 1976, is intended to compensate local governments for tax revenue they are unable to collect on tax-exempt federal lands located in their districts. The Department of the Interior makes the payments.

The government argued that it should not have to pay funds in excess of what had been appropriated by Congress for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to satisfy its PILT Act obligations.

The court disagreed.

In her opinion and order, Judge Elaine Kaplan found “that there is no language in the statute or the appropriations acts purporting to link these obligations to the amount of congressional appropriations in FY 2015 or FY 2016. Kane County is, accordingly, entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to its claim that it did not receive monies to which it was statutorily entitled for FYs 2015 and 2016.”

Kaplan rebuffed an argument by the government to the effect that the legislative history of the PILT Act should be sufficient to support its claim to immunity from further liability for fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

Kaplan wrote that “legislative history cannot be employed to supply words that are not contained in the statute itself.”

In April, the court granted, without opposition from the federal government, Kane County’s motion for the creation of a class of units of local government to be paid additional amounts.

Osage County decided Monday to join that class.

County Treasurer Sally Hulse told the commissioners that Osage County annually receives funds from the U.S. government under the terms of the PILT Act. In county fiscal year 2015-16, the county received $169,660, she said. Of that, slightly more than $24,000 went into the General Fund, while the rest was distributed to public schools, she said.

In county fiscal year 2016-17, the county received a little more than $173,000, of which a little over $24,000 went into the General Fund, while the rest was distributed to schools, Hulse said.

It is unclear at this point how much additional money Osage County might receive as a result of joining in the litigation.