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Montana Counties Struggle as Feds Waffle on Secure Rural Schools Funding

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With a drop in timber harvests and mining a thing of the past, Mineral County is struggling to live up to its name and to stay in the black. Only about 10 percent of the county is private so the local tax base just doesn’t foot the bill. According County Commissioner Roman Zylawy, Mineral County is now dependent on SRS (Secure Rural Schools) funding sent from the Federal Government.

“It’s a kind-of complicated formula, but basically it takes our three best years of logging in the county, in receipts, and they would average it out. When it first started out we would get 1.2 million dollars, with one third going to the three school districts in Mineral County: St. Regis, Alberton and Superior and then two-thirds going to the county to maintain the roads and the road department.”

SRS funding hasn’t been approved this year and County leaders are worried that they may have to abide by a policy established by Theodore Roosevelt, which may have worked back when timber was being harvested at a higher rate, but won’t make the cut now.

“Now that the SRS is not being authorized, we revert back to the 25% Forest Reserve, so they take into account the logging that occurred this past year and give us 25 % of that money, which, this year it would be just $41,000 for Mineral County. The SRS money goes down every year, but last year, the county’s two-thirds was $593,000.”

As the forest service closes roads and prohibits snowmobiling in large swaths of Mineral County’s public lands, Zylawy is increasingly skeptical that the county can shift to a tourism-based economy. He says leaders in congress from the east where they don’t have as much public land just don’t seem to understand what it’s like have the U.S. Government as your next-door neighbor and are often reluctant to vote for programs like Secure Rural Schools.

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