Swain County fights for its just due

Swain County Manager Kevin King made another trip up to Washington, D.C. last week, though this time the visit was not strictly for Swain County’s benefit.

The National Association of County Commissioners paid for King and 24 other county leaders from 13 states to fly into Washington and lobby for continued funding for the PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program. The program provides federal payments to counties with national park and national forest land to offset the losses to the county’s property tax base. The government doesn’t pay property taxes on land it owns, so counties with a lot of federally owned land like Swain miss out on the property taxes they could otherwise collect if the lands were privately held.

About 87 percent of Swain County’s acreage is federal land, either owned by the Forest Service, National Park Service or the Tennessee Valley Authority. Swain gets about $575,000 per year in PILT due the large amount of federally owned land — and thus non-taxable land — in the county.  It’s a sizeable part of the small county’s budget.

No PILT funding is included in the federal budget right now, however, which could hurt counties that expect the annual allocation. 

“Without mandatory funding, PILT will revert to a discretionary program subject to the annual appropriation process, which could jeopardize continued full funding for PILT. We can’t afford to let this happen,” said King, who has gone on PILT lobbying trips before.

King just got back from a trip to Washington last month with Swain County Commissioners Phil Carson and David Monteith to meet with National Park Service and Forest Service leaders.

— Caitlin Bowling

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