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Stories Added - February 2009
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2007 USFS mineral payments now complete
Trinity Standard - February 2009
TRINITY – A $440,000 underpayment to Trinity County from the sale of oil and gas on the Davy Crockett National Forest was corrected last week with a check from the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
Trinity County Judge Mark Evans, who spotted the error last year, said Monday the matter now appears to be resolved adding the money due Trinity County and its school districts has been received.
Under the program set up by the federal government, counties and schools in both Houston and Trinity counties get a 25 percent share of the mineral sales from the national forest.
However, due to an error apparently made by a U.S. Forest Service consultant last year, Trinity County was shorted $440,000 and Houston County was overpaid by a like amount.
Half of Trinity County’s share from the mineral money goes into the county road and bridge fund while the remaining half is divided amount the local school districts.
The mineral money – along with an annual “timber payment” set by Congress -- is intended to help offset the loss of tax money caused by having so many acres of non-taxable federal forest land in the county.
“The rest of the ’07 mineral money arrived along with the ’08 timber money,” Evans said. “It will mean a great deal to the precinct road and bridge departments as well as to the school districts.”
Evans noted that the Groveton Independent School District’s share of the additional money alone would amount to about $118,800.
The Trinity ISD will receive about $26,400 of the money; the Apple Springs ISD will get about $33,000; and the Centerville ISD will be given about $37,400.
Under the payment system, the USFS mineral and timber payments are forwarded to the Texas Comptroller’s Office in Austin, which in turn distributes it to the counties that are entitled to the money using a formula provided by the USFS.
Evans said that to correct the 2007 mineral payment error, the comptroller deducted the $440,000 from Houston County’s timber payment and added it into Trinity County’s payment.
County Treasurer Jo Bitner-Bartee confirmed that the 2008 timber payment of $543,026 arrived along with the $440,000 in 2007 mineral payments.
Like the mineral money, the timber payment is divided with half going to the county’s road and bridge department and the remainder divided among the school districts.
When combined with the more than $520,000 received earlier this year as its 2008 mineral payment, Evans noted the county has received over $960,000 during this budget cycle.
“Of that, $480,000 is going into the road and bridge departments and $480,000 is going to go to the schools. The commissioners court is going to have to go in and do some budget amendments because we had only budgeted $100,000 in mineral income this year,” he said.
Evans spotted the mineral payment error last year when Trinity County received a payment of only $91,361 while Houston County’s share was more than $1.1 million.
While acknowledging that Houston County deserves a larger share because they have more acres taken up by the national forest, Evans said he knew the 11 to 1 difference in the total had to be wrong.
The error was initially going to be continued in 2008, with Trinity County receiving $20,990 and Houston County getting more than $1.2 million.
When he first started questioning the split in 2007, he was told that most of the oil and gas wells operating in the national forest were in Houston County.
Evans argued that the division of the money should be based on the number of national forest acres located in each county, rather than on the location of the wells.
USFS officials in Washington, D.C. agreed with Evans’ interpretation of the law and the error was corrected before the 2008 mineral checks were issued.
Instead of $20,990, Trinity County’s 2008 share climbed to $526,814.
Because the 2007 checks had been long issued and cashed, it took a little longer to straighten out that error, but Evans said Monday that things are now back on track.