DOE wants to renegotiate PILT payments - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

DOE wants to renegotiate PILT payments

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RICHLAND, WA - The Department of Energy has paid off the entire $9.5 million payment to three local counties for its annual Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payment for use of the Hanford Site for fiscal year 2016. But concern over the future of paying PILT payments at current rates lingers.

Reporter Rex Carlin learned more about PILT payments. Basically, the federal government pays the equivalent of property taxes for the land it took during that took money away from local counties because property taxes for the land were no longer being paid.

The department pays Grant and Franklin, but mostly Benton County these payments.

The current agreement began in 1996, and since then, Benton County officials say there had never been a problem receiving the money until 2016, when DOE says the money allotted for the payment didn't cover the bill.

Adam Fyall|Benton Co. Sustainable Development Manager
"Benton County, for example, receives PILT from the Department of Energy, and then we distribute that money to other taxing districts in the area," said Benton County Sustainable Development Manager, Adam Fyall.

In an email from RSD, a spokesperson says historically the district uses the PILT money for one-time purchases like band instruments, computers, buses, and land for future school sites.

Kennewick, Grandview, Paterson, and Kiona-Benton School Districts also receive some PILT money, as do Port of Benton, Benton County Road District, rural libraries, and more.

But from DOE's perspective, the deal needs to be renegotiated so DOE can continue to make the payments. Unlike other payments and uses for that account that are mandatory, Hanford Site Chief Financial Officer Greg Jones says PILT payments are considered discretionary.

"Most of those are required by state law, this one is discretionary, we have lived up to our commitments," Jones said. "But the bills have gone up over time, quite a bit. Four or five times from when we started paying them in 1996 and this is on an annual basis."

Both Benton County and DOE say Senator Patty Murray did much of the leg work on getting congressional approval to move other funds into the account used to pay the 2016 PILT payment, but Jones says DOE needs some stability in the bills so it knows how much it will need in the account every year.

"We're trying to get some budget certainty, you know, we put our budgets together two years in advance, and as the bills have gone up, it has become very, very hard to fund them."

And Fyall says Benton County is willing to play ball.

"The county is open to a discussion about the future of PILT to make sure that it is sustainable."