Public lands tax services
Published: Thursday, September 13th, 2012
Several years ago, Custer County commissioned a study that confirmed what county officials had believed for a long time—the county put more money into emergency services for public land than it received in compensation for those services.
The study was specifically for Custer State Park, but it can be safely assumed the same can be said for Forest Service land, National Park Service land and other public land within Custer County.
Mike Carter, Custer County’s director of emergency management, said he has no exact figure as to what the county is losing in terms of servicing public land, but he does say there is money being lost.
“That’s the age old question, how do we recoup those costs,”â��he said.â��“To this point, no one has come up with a viable solution.”
Custer County emergency services responds to all public lands, whether it is law enforcement, public transportation services, or volunteer fire departments and Custer County Search and Rescue (SAR). For some entities, such as SAR, the vast majority, if not all, of its calls come from public lands. Whether it is hikers who have hurt themselves hiking Harney Peak or hunters lost in the forest, SARâ��responds to the calls, and rarely, if ever, recoups the money it spent on the recovery effort. For all entities, the calls see a significant spike in the summer.
“Our number one industry is tourism,” Carter said.â��“There is no way to regain those (rescue) costs and it can’t fall back on the taxpayers. You lose a lot of money that way.”
Custer County does receive money from government entities for emergency services on its land. Custer County Communications receives $6,740 a year from Custer State Park for dispatch services, and $2,000 per year from the National Park Service. The Custer County Sheriff’s Department receives $6,740 from state Game, Fish & Parks annually, and another $12,805 from the Forest Service.
But is it enough?
Carter said the amount of money given to the county is negotiated and each side tries to do what is “fair,”â��but pointed out in a busy year, the money the government gives the county could be chewed up in just one incident.
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