Mayor Prysunka goes to Washington last week

Mayor Steve Prysunka travelled to Washington D.C. last week to speak before the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources. He was invited to speak on behalf of the National Association of Counties, an organization that works to advocate county priorities in federal policymaking. Prysunka spoke last Thursday, Nov. 21, on the importance of the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funds.

"We're somewhat unique because we're actually the third largest city in the United States by area," Prysunka said to the Wrangell Sentinel, prior to his trip. "But by percent of population we're actually the largest city by area in the United States ... I believe it's 97 percent of our lands that are federal lands so as a community we're unable to expand and, basically, grow the community so that we can tax the other activities and businesses and homes that would be in the community. We just don't have the land."

This is why these federal programs are so important to towns like Wrangell, he said, as they help towns with limited opportunities for growth to survive. The PILT program is a payment made to small communities near large areas of federal land, such as the Tongass National Forest. It's meant to give these towns some parity with other towns that are not hindered in their expansion. Prysunka said he wanted to present the realities a rural town like Wrangell faces, such as aging infrastructure, costs for light and power, and the challenges and costs of even planning a project.

"By fully funding the PILT program, Congress can reaffirm its longstanding commitment to public lands and counties and provide them with the stability they need as they seek to implement their own balanced budgets while continuing to provide essential public services," Prysunka's testimony reads. "We need a strong and reliable federal partner to provide budgetary certainty and stability for the nation's counties."

The mayor also gave testimony on the importance of the Secure Rural Schools program. SRS funds come from a portion of Forest Service timber receipts, which are redistributed to small towns. The funds can be used to support local school districts, but Prysunka added that they could be used for other projects around the borough, too. He wanted to make the case to the resource committee that this money was "absolutely crucial" to keeping the city and school district operating. Prysunka's testimony said that SRS program was reauthorized in 2018, where it provided $257 million to 700 rural counties and 4,000 school districts. Seeing the program renewed once again was a big part of his testimony.

"The expiration of SRS will create dramatic budgetary shortfalls for counties if Congress fails to renew this long-standing federal obligation to county governments," his testimony reads. "Enactment of a substantial long-term program to share revenues generated from the management of federal lands with forest counties and schools will ensure that students receive essential education services and rural communities have critical funding for roads, conservation projects, search and rescue missions and fire prevention programs."

While in the capitol, Prysunka added that he intended to speak with legislators about the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is chaired by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R, AK). More information about the committee can be found at The National Association of Counties can be found at


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