SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — For decades, California has been creating wildlife areas to protect rural lands from urban sprawl. By law the State is supposed to pay annual fees to rural counties, reimbursing them for lost property tax revenue. Yet, California’s rural counties are owed millions of dollars in money desperately needed to protect public safety.

“The reality is – counties haven’t been paid since 2002,” said Diane Dillon, First Vice Chair of the Regional Council of Rural Counties.

In the past eight years, the State hasn’t paid a penny of those fees. And since that time, rural counties say California owes them, “over $19 million,” Diane Dillon told CBS 13.

Click here to see recent missed payments, in a document provided by the California Department of Fish & Game.

Dillon added, “It is a lot of money that pays for deputy sheriffs, it pays for library hours. It pays for basic services that counties provide.”

And when those payments dried up, many counties were left with huge holes in their budgets. Yuba County, for example, is now looking at the possible loss of a Sheriff’s patrol officer, following 8 years of lost revenue from the State.

“By the end of next year, we’re going to be looking at over half a million in funds that have not come in to our general fund,” said Russ Brown, a spokesman for Yuba County.

That financial hit is a sore spot for hikers we met in the woods, at the Daugherty Hill Wildlife Area, east of Marysville.

“They ought to pay up so we can have wildlife here,” said Orval Woods, who added, “Because it’s a good place to hike into and hike out.”

And in nearby Glenn County, the financial damage is even greater. The County is suing the State for $669,792.73 in back payments.

The money is supposed to come from the California Department of Fish & Game. Director John McCammon declined comment because of the pending lawsuit.

But the Regional Council of Rural Counties blame the State Legislature for failing to provide the necessary funding, year after year, thereby creating financial havoc for California’s rural areas.

“Oh they give us the mandate,” said Diane Dillon of the Regional Council of Rural Counties. “It’s just that the money doesn’t always follow.”

The rural counties concede they are not likely to get their money back any time soon – since California is now more than $25 billion in debt.

One thing that could change that however, is the lawsuit filed by Glenn County.

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