OURAY COUNTY – Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett announced last week that Third District Representative Scott Tipton of Montrose has signed a letter to Congressional colleagues requesting full federal funding for something called Secure Rural Schools, or SRS.
Funding for the program, which compensates counties with U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands – lands that are exempt from paying property taxes – has declined since 2008. (Ouray County is approximately 50 percent federal land, 159,000 acres worth, Padgett said.) Ouray County school districts, and schools in 37 other counties in Colorado depend on the money for teacher salaries and other expenses.
In 2008, according to Padgett, Colorado received $17.2 million in SRS funds, primarily from USFS fees and sales of forest products – timbering on public lands. 2008 funds delivered to Ouray County totaled almost $97,000, and “covered one and one-half to two teacher salaries for the Ouray and Ridgway School Districts,” Padgett wrote in a release. But the funds are being “ratcheted down,” Padgett said. By 2012, Colorado is scheduled to receive just $5 million for SRS. The 2011 allotment for Ouray County is down to about $70,000.
The program began in 1908 when it was called Forest Payments. Since 1908 the USFS had paid 25 percent of its gross receipts to states for use on roads and schools in rural counties where the forest lands are located. “It’s a shareback of fees,” Padgett said. “Akin to sales tax revenues coming back to the counties.”
But SRS technically expired in 2006. And as timber sales have declined (most precipitously in California and Oregon, where timber is down 90 percent from previous levels), funding for SRS has fallen too. Padgett asked Rep. Tipton to join with her and other Colorado leaders in calling for “full funding of the Secure Rural Schools forest payments at FY2008 levels next year and to work with your colleagues toward an appropriate long-term compensation system for rural schools and local roads.”
Padgett said she believes the system needs to be reformed so that there is stability in the funding to rural counties, that SRS be “long-term and predictable.”
According to Scott Streit, Senior Advisor and District Director for Rep. Tipton, the Congressman signed the letter March 18.