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Industrial Timberland & Taxes
Felice Pace, Letter to the Editor
August 6, 2008

In a recent published commentary (http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/MarciaArmstrong/congressionalrep071908.htm) Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong made this statement:

"The federal government pays PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). This is a formula based on the limited value of federal lands in the early 1900s when the National Forests were created. As an example, in fiscal year 2005 the federal payment to the county was $0.37 per acre. If these lands were taxed they would return about $1.48 per acre to the county."

I was curious about the $1.48 per acre figure so I contacted both the Siskiyou County Tax Collector and the Siskiyou County Assessor. What I learned is that since Proposition 13 bare land is taxed at 1% of assessed valuation. So, if a piece of forest land were assessed at $250 per acre, the tax rate would be $2.50 per acre. This would be split between the county, school districts and the state. So, the county might get $1.48 per acre.

But this is not the whole story. If national forest lands in Siskiyou County were privatized they would likely be enrolled with the county as Timber Production Zone (TPZ) or under the Williamson Act. Either way the taxes would be much less. Most private forest land in Siskiyou County enrolled in TPZ currently pays $.074 per acre in taxes or about 5% what the national forest lands yield in PILT per acre. The highest TPZ rate is $.137 per acre or about 9% of what national forest land yields in PILT.

If the federal forest land in Siskiyou County was privatized and enrolled under the Williamson Act it would likely yield as much as $.30 per acre in property taxes (the exact amount depends on the assessed value). This is still less than the current PILT payment.

If these figures are correct and they were supplied by the Siskiyou County Assessor it would be in the interest of the county and local school districts from a tax perspective if Siskiyou County's vast private timber lands were converted into national forests.

Why is it that Marcia Armstrong complains about the public forest PILT but not about the low amount of taxes paid by industrial timberland owners? And why is it that media outlets in Siskiyou County do not ask the sort of questions I have asked about Marcia's wild assertions?

Felice Pace
Klamath, CA

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