Rural schools will lose money with expiration of national act |

Rural schools will lose money with expiration of national act

— Payments to rural schools and U.S. Forest Service projects in several Western states including Colorado will be significantly reduced this year, following the expiration of a national act.

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was passed in 2000 to provide an alternate funding formula to help rural areas that relied on timber payment funds, which were decreasing.

The act was reauthorized under the Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007 and later under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, with reauthorizations lasting through early 2014.

The act expired Sept. 30, and local schools and the regional U.S. Forest Service office said they soon will feel the effects.

In absence of the act, states will revert to the previous 1908 Act, which mandates 25 percent payments to states from receipts from national forests in that state, a formula which totals much less funding.

“This would very definitely hurt school districts,” said Dale Mellor, finance director for the Steamboat Springs School District.

Mellor said that his understanding is that total payments to Routt County would decrease about 44 percent, a loss of about $77,000 for the Steamboat Springs School District.

Colorado is expected to receive about $5 million this year, compared with $13.4 million in 2014. Payments across all eligible states are expected to be about $50 million, compared to about $300 million available for the entire SRS program last year.

“It is a significant cut,” said Aaron Voos, public affairs specialist for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

Voos was involved in the disbursement of Title II SRS funds for five counties in Colorado and Wyoming, a small portion of the total SRS funds in the region.

Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service oversaw about $250,000 in SRS funds being used for projects including conservation work, recreation lands maintenance and youth programs in Routt County.

The largest such project involved improved the Buffalo Pass road, stabilizing the road from erosion and adding gravel.

Under the previous act, states could elect to use some of their SRS funds for projects under Title II or Title III — county projects for Firewise programs, emergency services or community wildfire protection plans — but under the 1908 ACT, states no longer will be required to disperse to such programs, and the use of funds will be up to individual counties.

Voos said the act was reauthorized in recent years as an 11th-hour legislative decision, and he wasn’t shocked to hear it would expire.

“It wasn’t too much of a surprise that it wasn’t reauthorized this year,” Voos said. “And I don’t know whether they’ll reauthorize it in the future.”

Voos said the Forest Service is encouraging county officials to remain in close contact with the state as the funding is disbursed.

Mellor said school district officials are hopeful that negotiations among legislators could come up with a solution that would have less of an impact on school district funds.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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