SD counties to receive $15M in federal money with few strings attached

By: - December 3, 2022 12:00 pm
Photo of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, which features long-grass prairie landscapes

Buffalo Gap National Grassland is located in southwestern South Dakota spanning several counties. (Courtesy of USDA)

South Dakota counties will receive over $15 million in one-time funds from the U.S. Department of the Treasury over the next two years, with the ability to spend the money on nearly anything they want.

The federal money is another form of COVID-19 economic relief stemming from the American Rescue Plan Act. This time, the influx is a $2 billion fund created to aid rural areas with public lands: the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund (LATC).

The only restriction for county government is that commissioners cannot spend the money on lobbying efforts. The first year’s funding is immediately available.

While most counties received the minimum of $50,000 each for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, Pennington County received 14% of the state’s total FY22 funds: $1,094,839. The county will receive another $1.09 million next year.

Each allocation used a formula based on federal lands within each county, defined by the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which incorporates population levels and economic conditions. Over 2,080 local governments across the county were eligible for the funds.

PILT money is a federal “reimbursement” to counties that can’t tax federal lands under their jurisdiction, said Fall River County Auditor Sue Ganje. 

Fall River County includes part of the Blacks Hills National Forest and the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. 

A view from Lovers Leap Trail in Custer State Park, within South Dakota's Black Hills. (Seth Tupper/SD Searchlight)
A view from Lovers Leap Trail in Custer State Park, within South Dakota’s Black Hills. (Seth Tupper/SD Searchlight)

“Schools don’t get money and counties don’t get money,” Ganje said. “We’re unable to tax those acres, so PILT money is that reimbursement.”

The county received $684,507 in LATC funds. 

These one-time LATC funds help make up for years when PILT money wasn’t received, Ganje said, adding that annual PILT money wasn’t historically consistent like it is now.

There is no deadline attached to the funds as of right now, according to the Treasury. Counties will submit an annual expenditure report by March 31 of each year, beginning in 2023.

Ziebach County, which received $50,000, is one of the first counties to spend the money. Based on a Nov. 10 commission meeting decision, $21,000 will be spent on $1,000 bonuses for county employees, which includes commissioners.

The remaining money will be saved for a new semi-truck for the Highway Department. Ziebach Auditor Cindy Longbrake said the county will likely wait until it receives fiscal year 2023’s $50,000 to purchase the truck.

“Our trucks are in bad shape. They break down a lot, and there’s one they’re not sure they can use,” Longbrake said, adding that the trucks are used to haul gravel for roads. All county roads in Ziebach County are gravel. 

The LATCF considerations are not on upcoming commission meeting agendas for Pennington or Fall River counties. However, Ganje hopes to see the funds earmarked for future budgets and wage increases.

“We’re working on wages and hopefully can work on wages to maintain and attract people,” Ganje said. “We’re having a hard time filling positions right now.”

As for Pennington County, Auditor Cindy Mohler said the county will likely use the “unanticipated revenue for the year” to supplement increased costs.

“There’s been a rising cost in wages, and the Sheriff’s Office has had a lot of overtime costs with being understaffed,” Mohler said. “There’s quite a supplement needed again to cover everything we’ve already supplemented.”

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Makenzie Huber
Makenzie Huber

Makenzie Huber is a lifelong South Dakotan whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent five years as a journalist with experience reporting on workforce, development and business issues within the state.