Counties Push State For Higher Payments On County Forestlands

No Increase In Acreage Share Payments In Roughly 30 Years


Northern Wisconsin leaders asked the state once again to increase payments for county forestlands at Superior Days in Madison. Counties say their towns aren’t getting enough back to support emergency services and road maintenance.

The state makes annual payments to towns for lands that are enrolled under county forest law. They’re called acreage share payments, but they’re more commonly known as payment in lieu of taxes (PILT). The money goes to replace property taxes that would have been paid to communities if the lands were privately owned. Bayfield County Board Supervisor Fred Strand said they’d like the state to increase payments from 30 cents an acre to $1 an acre.

“That 30 cents doesn’t go nearly as far to providing those required public services that townships have to offer,” Strand said.

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State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said he’d like to see an increase in payments.

“I mean if we could get it to 50 cents an acre, I think that would be a really big win. We’ll handle that in the context of the budget,” he said in a keynote address to the Superior Days delegation in Madison. “I’ve not won in regards to that battle over the last couple budgets, but we’re certainly going to try to make every effort to increase that.”

In comparison, local governments receive $2.55 per acre in PILT payments for national forestland. Lawmakers have proposed increasing acreage share payments in the past, but the last increase to payments occurred in 1989. Currently, around 2.4 million acres of county forestland are enrolled.

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal eliminates a forestry mill tax, which provides funding for the state’s forestry account. Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said any increase in acreage share payments would originate from that account.

“Where is that money going to come from to not only pay for the increase in the PILT tax, but the 30 cents PILT tax in my estimation is now maybe at risk,” he said. “We know it’s going to be funded this year because there’s dedicated money in the DNR budget. By statute, the DNR is required to pay that money. Now, they’re going to lose that funding source.”

Walker’s budget proposes to backfill the account with general purpose revenue or state funds. The governor has proposed eliminating the forestry mill tax to cut property taxes in the state by about $90 million.