Payment in lieu of taxes for some, but not for all

ALPINE, PRESIDIO COUNTY – Brewster County Commissioners last week accepted $1.3 million from Big Bend National Park in a federal program called Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT.

Because the 800,000-acre park is federally owned, it doesn’t pay property taxes, but PILT helps offset the tax loss.

The annual payment has come to Brewster County for many years from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

If only that were true from other federal and state agencies.

Since he’s been mayor, John Ferguson of Presidio has asked the federal government for a payment in lieu of taxes for an upscale federal housing subdivision for Border Patrol agents and CBP agents and staff assigned to the Presidio port of entry that like Big Bend National Park is exempt from paying property taxes to the city and Presidio ISD.

He’s sought help from U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and state officials as well.

“We are not eligible for PILT,” Ferguson said. But, “We are pursuing the exact same thing from the Department of Homeland Security. “We have something like 150 residences owned by federal government and they are not paying ad valorem taxes. The school has at least 30 apartments and it’s the same thing.”

Ferguson said Hurd is working on the issue, as is City Administrator Jose Portillo.

“There may be some kind of exemptions,” the mayor said. “Under Joe Portillo, we just got our books back in order but we’re just barely making it,” he said. “We’re not doing much more than just operating the city.”

Ferguson said those residences aren’t contributing to the local tax base “are some of the nicest homes in town for those who work for the federal government.”

Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara said the county also doesn’t receive PILT money from the federal housing subdivision in Presidio, or the Marfa Border Patrol Station and the Big Bend Border Patrol Sector headquarters in Marfa.

Likewise, the county gets no tax money from the 300,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park, or Fort Leaton State Historic Site in Presidio because the state doesn’t have a PILT program.

The amount Brewster County received last week was higher than the budgeted and expected amount of $1.2 million. Treasurer Babett Martin said the PILT is sometimes over budget and sometimes quite a bit below.

“And it could always go away,” she said.

The county will send five percent of the PILT to Terlingua Consolidated School District and ten percent to San Vicente Independent School District in Big Bend National Park.

County Judge Eleazar Cano said he appreciates receiving the PILT money. He said it will help fund the Road and Bridge Department.

“It’s not a lot of money but it’s a lot better than what some get,” he said.