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Ellensburg, WA 98926-2887
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Kittitas (pronounced 'kit-i-tass') County is located in central Washington
State. It spans from the lush forested Cascade Mountains to the upper Yakima River Valley plains and
the Columbia River.
Kittitas County, WA -
The State Legislature agreed to pay Kittitas County, along with other Eastern Washington counties, a larger share of payments it was promised but hasn’t received. For decades the State has promised Kittitas County "payments in lieu of taxes", or PILT, for land the state acquired locally for wildlife habitat and recreation and turned over to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to own and manage. When the state acquires land in a county, local governments must remove that land from the tax rolls and local schools, fire districts and county governments lose revenue. Without PILT, local citizens have to make up that revenue in the form of increased property tax rates. To prevent the increased taxes, the State agreed to compensate local governments with PILT. Kittitas County, however, hasn’t been receiving all the payments that were promised.
A coalition led by Kittitas County Commissioners, Representatives of the 13th Legislative District and others called on the Washington State Legislature to increase payments this year to local governments and other local taxing districts as part of the 2017/2018 state budget. PILT is critical to local governments, especially in rural areas of Washington like Kittitas County, with large acreages of state ownership. The legislature ultimately agreed with the coalition and increased the payments statewide by a little over $1 million per year beginning in 2018.
Prior to this year, PILT payments had not increased in the state’s budget since 2009. Kittitas County, with the most acres of PILT-eligible properties in the state, was also the most underpaid. In 2016 alone the county calculated the PILT amount owing on WDFW lands as $633,089.51. But the legislature appropriated only $143,974.00. The difference, $489,115.51, is the amount that didn’t go to local law enforcement, public health, county roads, schools, and the local hospital. Since 2011, the funds owed to the county in PILT that went unpaid by the state total $2,617,761.79.
At the end of the 2016 legislative session, Kittitas County, local legislators, the Washington State Association of Counties, The Nature Conservancy, and other rural counties and environmental groups worked alongside WDFW to raise the awareness of the underfunded PILT program for local governments. The coalition held a series of meetings in the summer and fall with elected legislators and state budget writers and advocated in Olympia throughout the session for higher funding and program reforms. The result was a $2.2 million increase in the state’s biennial budget. While not full funding, this represents a significant increase.
The PILT effort was led, in part, by Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell. “We are very pleased in the additional funding. It’s a great start,” stated Commissioner Jewell. “We felt like the state was breaking a promise they had made to local taxpayers decades ago by not funding this program adequately. The state justified the purchase of these lands in our county for the benefit of all the state’s citizens. They needed to hold up their end of the bargain and keep their promise. To a small county like ours, this is a lot of money for local government, schools, and healthcare.” Kittitas County was the biggest recipient of the additional funding, receiving over 2 ½ times more funding per year, with a new total annual payment of $382,638.00.
Matt Manweller, 13th District State Representative, also worked closely with the coalition advocating for improvements in the funding. “We worked very hard on this issue all year and I’m very pleased to be able to bring additional funding to Kittitas County,” stated Representative Manweller. “The state should keep its promises. This is definitely progress, but we’re not finished yet. I personally won’t be satisfied until our county citizens receive everything their owed.”
Kittitas County is home to over 170,605 acres of land owned by WDFW which are eligible to receive PILT. As a result of the increase, Kittitas County’s general fund will receive an additional $49,136.32 per year, the county road fund $32,575.19 , and the flood control zone district $2,410.72. Some school districts will also benefit with Damman receiving an additional $2,600.70, Easton $2180.27, Selah $2814.55, Thorp $18,582.49, Ellensburg $71,268.96, Kittitas $41,278.02, and Cle-Elum/Roslyn $253.44. Several fire districts will also receive a small increase as will the hospital districts, with Hospital District 1 receiving an increase of $12,456.31.
Kittitas County, from the Cascades to the Columbia, and online at http://co.kittitas.wa.us
Chairman Paul Jewell509-962-7508
Kittitas County has a total area of 2,333 square miles. The highest point in the county is Mount Daniel at 7,959 feet above sea level.