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More Counties Join PILT Class-Action Lawsuit Against the Feds

A view of the Book Cliffs near Palisade, Colorado in Mesa County.

A view of the Book Cliffs near Palisade, Colorado in Mesa County. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Fact-checking Trump’s claims on Calif. wildfires … a big N.M. groundwater ruling … and Detroit’s dismal rental inspection compliance.

Good morning, it’s Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. Budget and finance news leads Route Fifty’s state and local government news roundup but there's a lot more. Scroll down for more news from places like Wilmington, North Carolina; Utah County, Utah; and the Plains of St. Augustin in New Mexico.

BUDGET & FINANCE | PILT funding, or payments in lieu of taxes, is relied on by many county governments—especially in western states—that have considerable acreage of non-taxable federal land in their jurisdictions. It doesn’t usually make much news beyond state and local finance wonks, but there’s a class-action lawsuit worth noting. More counties are joining litigation led by Kane County, Utah alleging the federal government isn’t paying enough PILT funding. Mesa County, Colorado and Campbell County, Wyoming are among the jurisdictions that are joining the PILT funding legal fight. "We're stubborn and hard-headed and we feel like they arbitrarily decided not to pay the full amount," according Kane County Commissioner Jim Matson. Kane County initiated the litigation against the federal government in June 2017, which was certified as a class action a few months ago. Mesa County officials argue that the feds owe their jurisdiction at least $100,000; in Campbell County, officials are looking to recoup $25,000 in PILT funding they say they’re owed. [KKCO / KJCT; Casper Star-Tribune]

  • Fort Worth, Texas: City officials are considering cutting local property tax rates by 2 cents as part of current budget negotiations, but doing that may prove to be tricky if they’re also trying to shore up the Fort Worth Employees’ Retirement Fund. [Star Telegram]
  • Lincoln, Nebraska: A 98-page report from state auditors found issues with $26 million in child welfare spending, including “payments made in error, overpayments, unauthorized payments, unreasonable costs” and others. [Omaha World-Herald]
  • Utah County, Utah: County commissioners have added $1 million to the sheriff’s budget to cover the medical expenses “primarily accrued by one Utah County Jail inmate.” [Daily Herald]

PUBLIC SAFETY | Just as the wildfires in western states have dominated recent news headlines—and for good reason considering how destructive they’ve been—officials back east have been dealing with considerable amounts of rainfall in recent weeks. Places like Wilmington, North Carolina are waterlogged after two weeks of rain, which has flooded roads, blocked drains and caused sinkholes to form. In the Baltimore area, flash flood warnings were in effect Tuesday evening following a new round of storms that flooded Pulaski Highway near Middle River. [Wilmington Star News; WJZ; Reading Eagle]

  • Sacramento, California: In a recent tweet, President Trump said that California’s monster wildfires can’t be blamed on environmental laws, which “aren’t allowing massive amount[s] of readily-available water to be properly utilized.” But that’s news to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "We have had no issues accessing water to fight the fires," according to CalFire spokesman Scott McLean wrote in an email. "This year’s changing weather pattern is leading to more severe and destructive wildfires." [Politifact California]
  • Marshalltown, Iowa: The U.S. Small Business Administration has set up an office to process loans for rebuilding after this central Iowa city was hit by July’s EF-3 strength tornado. [Radio Iowa]
  • Seattle, Washington: City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is pushing a resolution that would mandate that American Medical Response, the city-contracted ambulance service, boost its pay for emergency medical technicians, some who barely make above the minimum wage. [The Stranger]

STATE GOVERNMENT | A top water-rights official in New Mexico denied an application from Augustin Plains Ranch LLC to pump groundwater from the Plains of St. Augustin due to a “striking absence of information” in how the water would be actually be used. It’s “the latest twist in the 11-year quest” by the company to “siphon off 54,000 acre-feet, or 17.6 billion gallons, of water annually.” [Santa Fe New Mexican]

  • Waco, Texas: On Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda for the Texas Legislature when lawmakers reconvene next year: bail reform. On Tuesday, Abbott announced his proposal for the Damon Allen Act, named for a highway patrol officer gunned down during a traffic stop in Fairfield. [Texas Tribune]
  • San Francisco, California: Golden State residents and lawmakers are frustrated with long wait times at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, where at one point there was  at least a 90-day wait for a driver’s license appointment at the DMV office in San Francisco. [San Francisco Chronicle]

CITY HALLS | In Detroit, Michigan, most landlords in Detroit aren’t complying with the city’s new rental property rules that require them to have their units inspected and the first wave of $750 tickets started going out last week. [The Detroit News]

  • Nashville, Tennessee: After questions were raised over how Metro Nashville public schools were conducting water-quality tests, Mayor Dave Briley intervened to strengthen testing procedures to where his office believes the the new protocols are “among the most proactive in the nation.” [WTVF]  
  • Honolulu, Hawaii: After five years of community-driven discussion on how Honolulu can be more friendly to aging populations, the City Council is considering Bill 54, where “city departments would be required to incorporate age-friendly practices into all programs, services, facilities and projects.” [Honolulu Civil Beat]
  • Portland, Oregon: Maintenance crews spent Tuesday morning scrubbing anti-ICE graffiti that had been sprayed overnight on columns and walls at Portland City Hall. [The Oregonian /]
  • Tempe, Arizona: A city investigation into abusive workplace conduct in the Tempe Public Works Department found two men to be “aggressive managers who routinely used inappropriate language and bullied colleagues.” [Phoenix New Times
  • Yakima, Washington: The Humane Society has cut ties with the city of Yakima over its municipal rules that prohibit pit bulls. [Yakima Herald-Republic]

ALSO on Route Fifty:

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

NEXT STORY: House Bill to Expand Tax Credit Program Would Target Rural Areas