Federal tax offset pays 8.5 times Marton Ranch property tax

A program to offset untaxable federal land generated far more per acre for Natrona County than the Marton Ranch county and state farm property taxes.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.WyoFile

Federal and county data appear to ease concerns that the federal conservation purchase of the 35,670-acre Marton Ranch near Casper will decrease Wyoming’s tax revenue.

Wyoming politicians have criticized the recent purchase of Marton’s conservation by the United States Bureau of Land Management, saying, in part, that the move could hurt Wyoming financially. The federal government owns and controls approximately 44% of Natrona County, primarily through the BLM, but does not pay local and state property taxes on its holdings.

The Marton Conservation Purchase completed last month removed 35,670 acres of private farmland from county tax rolls.

Federally-owned land can “produce costly inconvenience,” Wyoming’s congressional delegation wrote in a June 23 letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Gov. Mark Gordon also questioned the “potential impacts” on local and state tax revenues in a notice of appeal filed with the Department of the Interior challenging the recent $21 million purchase.

But concerns about Wyoming’s loss of tax revenue due to federal ownership do not appear to be borne out when examining the “payment in lieu of taxes” program that seeks to offset the effects of tax-free federal holdings.

LTIP payments to Natrona County totaled $3.95 million in fiscal year 2022, the most of any county in Wyoming, according to federal records. The payments were for 1.48 million federal acres in the county’s 3.4 million acres.

The LTCP generated an average of $2.67 for every federal acre in Natrona County, based on calculations from federal data for fiscal year 2022.

Meanwhile, state and local property taxes on Marton Ranch’s private farmland generated significantly less per acre than the PILT program, according to Natrona County assessor records. BLM did not purchase the Marton Ranch residential property which is the headquarters of the ranch and which is taxed at rates higher than agricultural rates.

On 33,324 acres of ranch properties classified as agricultural, the county took about $10,300 in 2021, or about 31 cents per acre. Although officials have not estimated what PILT will represent at Marton Ranch, existing data suggests that Wyoming may not lose and may even gain revenue from the purchase of BLM.

Comparing the two revenues per acre – Wyoming farm taxes versus the federal LTIP – reveals that the federal compensation is about eight and a half times higher per acre than those generated by state and local property taxes.

The delegation weighs

This summer’s acquisition for conservation of the Marton Ranch was the largest purchase the BLM has undertaken in Wyoming, the agency announced last month. The acquisition “will preserve and expand access to public lands for many generations to come,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a statement.

This includes access along 8.8 miles of the North Platte River. The Conservation Fund was instrumental in the deal, made possible through the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund funded by offshore oil and gas revenues.

A real estate ad boasted good fishing on the North Platte River along the Marton Ranch. (Screenshot/Clark & ​​Associates Land Brokers, LLC)

BLM’s purchase could increase county revenue through LTIP, increased recreation sales tax or other factors, said Dan Schlager, the Wyoming State Director of the Conservation Fund. who helped put together the purchase.

LTCP helps pay for essential services such as search and rescue and law enforcement that counties are responsible for, regardless of ownership. The formula for calculating payments takes into account population and various other factors.

However, PILT payments are not guaranteed. Congress must approve them each year. The National Counties Association and other groups say the annual process hurts planning.

Besides suggesting a potential financial blow to Wyoming, the delegation’s and governor’s criticisms go further. The senses. Americans John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Representative Liz Cheney want Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to “neutralize” the purchase by identifying “divestment opportunities” for other federal assets in the state.

In a two-page letter to Haaland dated June 23, the delegation also said the Interior Department should “secure local and state approval before federal land acquisitions” in the future.

The federal government owns and controls “nearly half of the land in Wyoming,” the letter states, leading the delegation to question the BLM’s need “to purchase and acquire vast amounts of additional land in our state… “.

(The amount of land that five federal agencies — the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense — own in Wyoming has declined 3.3% over the past 30 years. between 1990 and 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service.)

The purchase will cost the federal government down the line, the delegation letter states, as Marton’s old taxes “must be offset by additional federal expenditures…” Federal land acquisitions are also adding to a maintenance backlog and diminish agency effectiveness, the letter says.

The governor also raised the issue of tax revenue in his notice of appeal. Gordon filed the notice with the Home Office on June 16, saying, among other things, that BLM “simply speculated on uncertain future payments in lieu of taxes”.

This speculation assumes that Congress will continue to fund the program.

Gordon also criticized a “cavalant disregard for public notice and participation [by the BLM that] violates the spirit if not the letter of the law. The state has until July 17 to fully explain its protest and say what relief, if any, it is seeking.

The notice does not indicate that Wyoming wants the purchase rescinded.

The BLM addressed various aspects of its purchase in a 24-page environmental scan before finalizing it. The agency said a county tax base “could be affected” but the LTIP “should offset any economic issues.”

“Therefore, no impact” on socio-economic resources, the EA reads.

The paper made a similar conclusion regarding revenues from mining development and grazing, which Gordon also highlighted as concerns. These uses would continue under the ownership of BLM, according to the EA.

Endorsing the environmental analysis, Casper Field Managers and Rawlins BLM wrote that “no anticipated effects have been identified that are considered ‘highly controversial.’

“The proposed action complies with all federal, state and local laws,” the officials wrote. The purchase “will not result in significant impacts on the human environment,” the two said.

Furious Governor

Gordon’s notice of appeal called the BLM’s 24-page analysis “rapid” and said it failed to consider potential impacts of federal ownership “in a meaningful way.” The advisory reserves a bushel of indignity for BLM public awareness and involvement.

The BLM launched the project on Feb. 16, according to the agency’s e-planning website. BLM officials approved the purchase on May 18 and finalized it on May 23 when the agency released its decision documents, according to the website. The BLM released the environmental assessment, dated “April 2022,” on June 6.

The environmental scan contains a very thin Chapter 5 titled “Agencies, Individuals, Organizations or Tribes Consulted”. The chapter contains five words: “Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office”.

The federal website lists Natrona County as a cooperating agency. Under the project’s “participation periods”, the BLM website lists “0”, supporting Gordon’s claim that the audience was cut off.

“The State of Wyoming enthusiastically supports and often serves as a partner in the Bureau’s efforts to improve access to our public lands,” the governor’s notice of appeal states, “but there is a right way and a wrong way. to make decisions at the landscape scale. that have a direct impact on the people of Wyoming. Excluding the State of Wyoming and the public from this process was the wrong way.

Wyoming law permits secrecy in land sales, even between government agencies, agencies, and subdivisions, for reasons set forth in the legislation.

“A governing body of an agency may hold executive meetings not open to the public,” states the Wyoming Open Meetings Law, “to consider site selection or the purchase of real estate when publicity regarding consideration would result in a likelihood of a price increase.”

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on the people, places, and politics of Wyoming.

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