Secure Rural Schools money is on its way.
The U.S. Forest Service announced on Thursday that payments totaling $308 million will be provided to states between now and the end of the year.
That means the Warren County Commissioners are on the clock and have a decision to make.
Since 1908, the Forest Service has shared with states and counties 25 percent of gross receipts, primarily from timber sales, from national forests to benefit public schools and public roads in the counties in which the forests are located. In the late 1980s, due largely to declines in timber sale receipts, payments began to drop significantly and fluctuate widely, according to a release from the Forest Service.
Counties now have the option to choose between a pre-determined, fixed payment amount or the historical 25 percent of gross receipts, which is subject to market factors.
Warren County has seen a sharp decline in Secure Rural Schools funding since 2008. The county received over $1.6 million dollars in 2008, down to 1.5 million in 2009 and down further to $1,355,579 in 2010.
The county's allotment took a steeper hit last year, falling to $807,607.
The projected payment to Warren County this year is $756,476, according to a spreadsheet from the U.S. Forest Service.
Allegheny National Forest Spokeswoman Kathy Mohney cautioned that that likely isn't a final number.
"Our fiscal year ends on September 30th and typically final numbers are not available until the beginning of the calendar year," she said in an email Friday. "But the projected payments are a useful and accurate tool for the counties to use as they make their decisions."
"Our support of schools and roads in rural communities is one of the many ways the Forest Service is helping to sustain and stimulate economic growth across the country," said Forest Chief Tom Tidwell. "Opportunity for students and communities in rural America is directly tied to the future prosperity of our nation."
States have until Sept. 30 to inform the Forest Service which of their counties have elected to receive a payment, and what form of payment they choose.
After the deadline the Forest Service will calculate actual amounts and coordinate with the U.S. Treasury to make the payments to the states in December.
In a county elects to receive part of their state's allocation in addition to their county funding, a resource advisory committee is required to meet to discuss potential projects, all of which will be approved by the forest supervisor for approal and funding.
"In this case, even though we will not know definitively until the end of September which of our four counties, if any, will elect to receive Title II funds, due to the language adopted by Congress in the extension, RACs must meet in order to "recommend" projects to the Forest Supervisor by September 30th of this year," Mohney explained. "I am currently working with our RAC to schedule two meetings in the month of September."
"The Secure Rural Schools reauthorization that passed Congress in June requires that states inform the Forest Service as to how they plan to allocate their share of these payments," U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson (R-5) said. "Counties will soon be receiving letters from the Forest Service advising them of this requirement, including the September 30th deadline for making this determination."
New language in the reauthorization requires states to inform the agency how counties plan to allocate their share of the payment. Among the acceptable uses of the funding are supporting public schools, road repairs and for projects to help maintain and improve the health of forests.
In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act that provided enhanced, stabilized payments to more states through 2006. The act was extended for one year and then reauthorized in 2008 for four more years.
On June 29, 2012, Congress passed a one-year reauthorization of the program, which was signed into law by President Obama on July 2.