Schools, township to miss out on National Forest royalties

HARRISVILLE — Alcona County will miss out on a royalties payment from the U.S. Forest Service due to an accounting error by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

This amounts to nearly $6,300 that will not be distributed to area schools and townships with forest service lands, through the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

Alcona County Treasurer Cheryl Franks explained the situation to the Alcona County Board of Commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting.

She said the county received a letter from Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which acts as an intermediary for the ONRR and the counties, that the funding would not be distributed for 2017.

“In May 2016 the state was informed by the ONRR that they need to recover $121,066.98 of royalties paid in error to the State of Michigan for Unleased Land Accounts,” as stated in the DNR letter. “The ONRR is offsetting current revenues until the total amount is recovered. As of Sept. 30, 2017, the balance left for ONRR to recover is $70,784.61.”

The letter went on to say that since there was still a balance there would be no royalties distribution for the counties.

“Since there is such a large amount that still needs to be recovered, there also may not be any royalties to distribute in fiscal year 2018,” the letter went on to say.

According to a federal statute the funding that is distributed to the counties is from revenues generated from forest lands in the area. That funding is distributed by the federal government to the counties, which is responsible for distributing 75 percent of the proceeds to local school districts and the remaining 25 percent to local townships for road improvements.

“We did contact all the townships that this was going to be happening,” Franks said. “(Alcona Community Schools) will be most affected.”

She said the district received $2,600 last year through the program.

Chairman Craig Johnston asked what mistake was made that led to the overpayment. Franks said she was unsure but said she wanted county officials to be aware of the situation. She said the townships with the greatest impact would be Millen and Mitchell Townships because of the relatively large amount of forest land in the areas.

Millen Township Supervisor Jim Burger said he is researching what is going on with the situation and how it could impact the township. He said there is just over 62 percent federal land in the township and said a major portion of his township budget.

Burger said there is not much room for expansion of residences or businesses in his township because much of the land is forest service, meaning Millen Township has a smaller tax base and every dollar counts.

“I still have the same obligations as the other townships, we still have to hold elections, we still have to take care of those roads, and I really don’t have much room for expansion because of the private land and the ability to do something, I’m not complaining, but it’s what we have,” he said. “Anything I get from federal is really important to me.”

Jason Ogden can be reached via email at jogden@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Jason on Twitter @jo_alpenanews.