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Inyo joins rural county lobbying group

July 24, 2012

With more than 90 percent of Inyo County’s land in the hands of the federal government, local leaders are hoping that the Western Counties Alliance can help lobby to bring back federal funds that were designed to make up for the loss of property tax revenue. Photo courtesy Inyo County

Inyo County is teaming up with about 25 other state and county entities to strengthen its voice in the federal arena.
County leaders met last week with Ken Brown, a representative of the Western Counties Alliance, to discuss how membership with the organization can help Inyo in its endeavors.
“There is strength in numbers,” Brown said. “We work closely with the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen’s Association so we can go after issues in a hurry when we need to.”
Brown told the Board of Supervisors last week that the Western Counties Alliance tracks everything from federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding, geothermal licensing and the federal Wild Horse and Burro program to the U.S. Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan, wilderness proposals and public lands transfers.
Brown said his organization is working on legislation to reinstate PILT funding, which the county receives from tax-exempt public lands. Those funds are scheduled to expire.
“PILT funding is very necessary,” Brown said. The Alliance is currently working on a deal to extend funding for one more year as it works on legislation that would bring it back permanently.”
The Alliance is also taking a close look at federal geothermal revenue, which it hopes to have divided equally among states, counties and federal entities.
Brown said teams from the Alliance are working on legislation that would channel the money directly from the source to counties, rather than funneling it through the state, “so the state isn’t tempted to take those funds.”
Brown also said there is talk in the federal arena of raising grazing fees by $1 to help generate revenue; the Alliance has been keeping tabs on all Forest Service Travel Management operations in the West; and is very concerned about the transfer of public lands.
He said that legislators in Utah, who are members of the Alliance, are working on legislation that would legalize the transfer of federal public lands to counties.
He said he would keep local leaders informed on the progress of that proposal.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said one of the topics Inyo County is concerned about that the Western Alliance could help with is the release of Wilderness Study Areas.
“We’ve been trying to get some WSAs released,” Arcularius said. “Some were deemed not suitable for Wilderness.”
Brown said the Western Alliance is proposing a time limit for all WSAs that would mandate their release after 15 years.
Currently Inyo is the only California county involved with the Western Counties Alliance, but Brown said the group has been speaking with Butte and San Bernardino counties, which would bolster its ranks.
He added that, as a member, Inyo County will receive regular updates on positions taken by the Alliance, and the Alliance will always be available to hear any questions and concerns the county has.

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