Goodtimes:National Association of Counties Meets in Richmond, Virginia | Up Bear Creek
by Art Goodtimes
Jul 22, 2007 | 618 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HILLARY CLINTON … The Dem frontrunner for the presidential nomination accepted an invitation from NACo and spoke before several thousand county commissioners at the organization’s annual summer conference.

Her words were music to most ears, and she got round after round of applause for many national liberal hot buttons – championing universal health care, ending the war, tax breaks for the middle class, ending torture camps, mending our international relationships worldwide. But she also tailored her message for county governments, promising to increase Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT), which is a complicated formula of payment the Feds make to counties that have public lands in them, and agreeing to end unfunded mandates – which are federal programs that local citizens have to pick up the cost for implementing … By the end of her 20-minute speech, she’d gotten a standing ovation from all but a handful of the most obstreperous Republicans … Hillary was impressive. Say what you will about her, she spoke powerfully, and to the issues, in language that was clear and forceful and inspiring. I couldn’t help thinking as we stood and cheered that she would make a fine president. She would begin trying to repair the damage wrought by Cheney and his Bush puppet over the last eight years … If you haven’t, read Hendrik Hertzberg’s The Darksider from the New Yorker at John Metcalf’s lovely website, www.independence.net … That said, I’m still an Obama fan, but Hillary’s in the same league. And I hope the Dems get smart and put them both on the same ticket – a woman and a black. Now that would be a message of change in this country!

JAMESTOWN’S 400TH … In between steering committees and subcommittee meetings, workshop presentations on all facets of county governance, state caucuses, a giant vendor expo and all the private networking in the hallways, local bars and chartered buses that transported us from scattered Richmond hotels to the convention center, the entire group got to spend an evening visiting Jamestown Settlement – the museum and recreated village site along the James River on the edge of Chesapeake Bay. It was exactly 400 years ago, 1607, that English settlers arrived and set up the first British colony in what would become the United States of America. We were beneficiaries of oysters and clam treats, docents dressed in colonial clothes, and some cooking dance bands … Most amazing to me were the miniscule ships that carried the English to these foreign shores. I walked the hold of one vessel, smaller than my living room, where 20 or so passengers had to stay most of the time – allowed on deck rarely and only then at the captain’s permission – for 140 days ... Fresh water only lasted two weeks before turning brackish, so they mostly drank beer instead of water (which could also be said about many of our nation’s politicians – mostly noticeably at conferences).

PUBLIC LANDS … Of course, my job at NACo was to represent Colorado and San Miguel County on the Public Lands Steering Committee. Led by senior Colorado member and NACo boardmember Dorothea Farris of Pitkin County, the eight members of our Public Lands delegation are constantly in a rear-guard action to stop the Utah/Oregon/Idaho contingent of private property rightists from proposals putting NACo on record as opposed to wilderness, clean water, clean air, endangered species – basically anything enviro … Where we all agree is on the committee’s main job – to promote PILT, which every public lands county has come to depend on from the Fed … Currently federal PILT payments are based on a complicated formula that rewards counties with lots of public lands in them, but then penalizes them if they don’t have high populations, and really dings them if they get any other kind of federal revenues. Our county fits all three of these criteria. Up until we starting getting oil and gas revenues in the current Paradox Basin boom, PILT revenues climbed steadily – with Campbell, Allard, and Salazar all upping the ante on the annual PILT monies the Feds pay counties (currently about $0.40+/acre). At its peak, the San Miguel County got over $400,000 in PILT payments. The next year it dropped to ninety some thousand (two figures not three), and it’s held steady the last few years at roughly $100,000 a year … So, the Colorado delegation (almost a third of this year’s national committee in attendance) has been united in supporting full funding for PILT. That would translate into paying counties something like $1.25 per acre for untaxed federal lands ... Currently the Congress never appropriates full funding for PILT, but only votes to authorize full funding – and yes, some folks vote yes on appropriations and no on the budget (proving yes you can have your cake and cut it both ways) … The other strategy for supporting PILT is changing the formula, and Commissioner Todd Devlin of Prairie County, Montana, made several proposals to have NACo lobby on the Hill in support of increasing the money to small counties, including not allowing federal PILT off-sets, which had dropped our county revenues by $300,000 the last several years … I’m looking to Todd in early March, when we head to D.C. for NACo’s Legislative Session, to come up with a new formula proposal that, who knows, just might fly.

SPEAKING OF REWARDS … Look to the county to roll out a new prescription drug benefit program that could save the uninsured (and some under-insureds) up to 20 percent of their drug costs at pharmacies. It’s plastic you wave like a coupon and which entitles you to savings of as much as 20 cents on the dollar. Given the cost of prescribed drugs, that could be a sizeable figure. And what I liked best about this program, as I learned in a NACo workshop this time, there’s no paperwork. Once the county starts giving away free cards, you get to start using them, at participating pharmacies (I believe Sunshine Pharmacy in Telluride and City Market pharmacies in Montrose) … Estimated release date? This summer.

THE TALKING GOURD

Ultimately the air

is bare sunlight

where must be found

the lyric valuables

-George Oppen

San Francisco

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