Bradford County commissioners split on how to use impact fee revenue
TOWANDA - Most of the $8.4 million that Bradford County will receive this year in impact fee revenue should be used to pay off the county's debt, the two Republican Bradford County commissioners said.
But Democratic Commissioner Mark Smith opposes the idea, saying it not will not leave enough revenue to significantly address the impacts that the county has sustained in areas such as housing, emergency services, and social services.
Eliminating the debt would reduce Bradford County's 11.08-mil property tax rate by .65 mils, which amounts to a tax reduction of approximately 6 percent for all taxpayers in the county, Miller said.
"The county is in good shape already, but this will put it in better shape," Miller said, explaining why he and fellow GOP Commissioner Doug McLinko want to eliminate the county's debt at this time.
The .65 mils that would be eliminated is the "funded debt" portion a homeowner's county property tax bill, McLinko said.
Under Act 13, revenue from the impact fee can be used to reduce taxes, McLinko said.
It is the Bradford County commissioners who will decide how the county will use its share of the impact fee revenue, using guidelines contained in Act 13.
But Smith said that paying off the county's debt would cost over $6 million, which would use up most of the county $8.4 million allocation of impact fee revenue for 2012.
To pay off all the debt would result in a reduction of approximately $20 to a taxpayer's annual property tax bill, Smith said.
"I don't think that will really make a huge difference" to the county's taxpayers, Smith said. Yet, at the same time, paying off the county's debt would "severely limit the impacts that have occurred (from the natural gas industry) that we can address" with the $8.4 million allotment, Smith said.
Smith said he believes that addressing the impacts of the natural gas industry, along with encouraging the further development of the natural gas industry, is what the impact fee is really intended for, Smith said.
The county's debt is for projects that have nothing to do with the natural gas industry, and most of the debt is for projects, such as improvements at the Bradford County Manor, that were done before the gas industry hit the area, Smith said.
Smith said that the Progress Authority has hired a consultant, Delta Development Group, which has been working on an assessment of the county's needs, in order to prioritize areas that the county could address with its impact fee revenue, Smith said, The process for prioritizing uses for the impact fee revenue, which is still under way, involves interviews with county department heads, and Delta has been getting feedback on the study's preliminary findings from the Bradford County commissioners, he said.
The county should be looking to the Progress Authority study, which is based on facts, for direction on how to use the impact fee money, rather than making a decision on how to use it based on "politics," Smith said.
There are a number of proposals for additional housing that are before the county, which the county could help move forward with some of the impact fee revenue, Smith said. Another possibility for using the impact fee revenue would be to establish a revolving loan fund to help small businesses start or grow, especially in the area of natural gas, and to help develop affordable housing, he said.
Still another possible use of impact fee revenue would be to convert county-owned vehicles to natural gas, since natural gas fueling stations are coming to the area, he said.
Miller and McLinko said other areas that they are interested in using the impact fee money for would be to help establish a training center for first responders, including firefighters, ambulance workers and police. First responders have been significantly impacted by the Marcellus Shale gas boom, McLinko said.
Another area where the impact fee revenue could be used would be to upgrade communication equipment in the county's 911 center, according to Miller and McLinko. While the equipment in the center was upgraded several years ago, "technology is improving all the time," Miller said.
Miller and McLinko said they are also interested in using impact fee revenue to help create long-term jobs in the county. Among the possible ways to promote long-term job growth would be to help bring municipal water and sewer services to additional areas of the county, and to contribute funds toward the development of an industrial park in the county, McLinko said.
Miller said he is also interested in placing some of the impact fee revenue into a capital reserve fund, to address unforeseen circumstances in the future, such as a large repair to a building.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.