County joins lawsuit over federal underpayment

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County recently joined a class action lawsuit against the federal government seeking restitution for underpayments. 

County Attorney Dan Whitten, in a Board of Supervisors agenda item, stated that the suit involves the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Act, which requires that the federal government pay localities to offset property losses for non-taxable federal land within its boundaries.

In fiscal years 2015 to 2017, he said Congress did not appropriate enough money, which resulted in underpayments.

The class action suit initiated as the result of Kane County, Utah v. the United States in which the county claimed underpayments from the federal government.

The suit was certified by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and notice was sent to counties that they could opt into a class action case. The court determined that each class suit member has the right to collect the underpayments from fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017. The court also ruled that the counties cannot collect any additional payments other than what is owed. 

Warren County will be represented by the Washington, D.C.-based firm Smith, Currie & Hancock, LLP, which represents all parties in the class action suit.  

A notice from the Court of Federal Claims states that the government’s counsel and the class counsel have agreed on how much was underpaid, but the amount of money each member of the suite will receive is undetermined. 

Shenandoah County, which received $196,491 from the payment in lieu of taxes program in the fiscal year 2017, also recently joined the class action suit.  Warren County last year received $54,867.

According to previous reports, the federal government must pay localities the amount determined by a formula that considers population, revenue sharing programs and the amount of federal land in a locality.

Although counties do not have to hire outside counsel or pay attorney’s fees until it is deducted from the money obtained by the suit, Whitten said the county would be “bound by all rulings, orders and judgments entered” or settlements determined in court.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect a wording change in the first paragraph.