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Marcellus Shale fees to midstate counties could top $6.7 million

A Marcellus Shale outcropping in Northumberland County. File photo

Next week, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will know the total amount of money collected through Marcellus Shale impact fees.

The state’s northern tier and western counties, where natural-gas drilling is most active, will receive 60 percent of the money from impact fees after $23 million is shaved off to pay for administration by the state’s various departments. The remaining 40 percent will go toward statewide initiatives for all 67 counties, including those in Central Pennsylvania.

All together, midstate counties could receive about $6.7 million for this year and next for bridges and for parks and recreation under those statewide initiatives, according to estimates by Senate Republicans, who authored the impact fee legislation known as Act 13.

When the counties receive the first payments in December, the money will be a needed boost to begin fixing bridges that have been deteriorating, causing a headache for transportation and commerce, some officials said.

Businesses, trucking and distribution companies, farmers and residents all use roads and bridges, Cumberland County Commissioner Barbara Cross said.

“All of that is more wear and tear on bridges that maybe didn’t get as much attention in the past,” she said.

Cumberland County owns and maintains 28 bridges, 10 of which are a priority for repair, Cross said. Yet every time an accident or extreme weather affects a bridge, it moves onto the priority list — and the county doesn’t have the money to repair all of them at the same time.

“Any money coming in support of bridges is very much needed,” Cross said.

Other counties around the state are dealing with similar issues because of state and local budget cuts, officials said.

Senate Republicans estimate the state will collect $180.5 million Sept. 4 for the productive gas wells, or “spuds,” in 2011. The state could collect nearly $211.2 million in fees for 2012, according to the estimates.

The PUC will not have hard numbers until after Labor Day, spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said. Gas-drilling companies are supposed to pay the fees by Sept. 1, but that deadline could be extended because of the holiday. The total amount could vary from earlier estimates based on the number of wells drilled and the price of natural gas.

Senate Republicans used their numbers to generate estimates on every county share. Counties will receive the money for 2011 on Dec. 1 this year, and money for 2012 in December 2013.

“We have supported the impact fees … as a means to provide local funding to deal with the broad range of shale gas impacts — infrastructure, emergency management and response, human services, housing, records management, and others. The fees are important and will help meet these objectives,” said Doug Hill, executive director of the Harrisburg-based County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

However, counties shouldn’t assume that this will be any type of windfall for their budgets, because the money in statewide initiatives is locked into uses for specific areas, he said, so bridge money must be used on bridges. However, the money will ease budget pressures for counties around the state, he said.

That could defray what other businesses pay in taxes by having a single system statewide that requires gas drillers to pick up their share of what it costs to use roads, bridges and emergency and other services, Hill said.

“We acknowledge that the industry has paid property taxes on office buildings and the like, but unlike other mineral industries (it) did not pay property tax on the mineral itself, having been exempted by a 2002 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision,” he said.

Plenty of drilling companies contributed voluntarily to the communities they operated in out of enlightened self-interest in having better roads and services, he said, but that was an ad hoc system at best.

“The impact fee restores balance and relieves pressure on the other taxpayers, including other businesses,” Hill said.

Fee breakdown

Here’s a look at what each midstate county could receive this year and next year from Marcellus Shale impact fees under two statewide initiatives in Act 13, based on February estimates from the Senate Republicans.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY

2011 bridge money: $287,279

2011 parks and recreation money: $172,200

2012 bridge money: $344,379

2012 parks and recreation money: $206,495

DAUPHIN COUNTY

2011 bridge money: $319,965

2011 parks and recreation money: $191,792

2012 bridge money: $383,561

2012 parks and recreation money: $229,985

LANCASTER COUNTY

2011 bridge money: $627,447

2011 parks and recreation money: $376,101

2012 bridge money: $752,157

2012 parks and recreation money: $450,998

LEBANON COUNTY

2011 bridge money: $161,266

2011 parks and recreation money: $96,666

2012 bridge money: $193,319

2012 parks and recreation money: $115,916

YORK COUNTY

2011 bridge money: $530,038

2011 parks and recreation money: $317,713 2012 bridge money: $635,387

2012 parks and recreation money: $380,982

Source: Pa. Senate Republicans

Jim T. Ryan

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