Gauging the impact fees
TOWANDA - At their meeting on Thursday, the Bradford County Commissioners continued to discuss the $8.4 million in impact fee revenue that will be coming to the county this year, and also voted to participate in the Department of Environmental Protection's black fly suppression program during 2013.
"We're not going to be in a hurry to spend (the impact fee revenue)," Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko said. How it's spent "has to be well thought out," he said.
On Monday, Gov. Tom Corbett announced the official amounts that counties and municipalities will receive in 2012 from the state's recently enacted impact fee, which is levied on companies that drill for natural gas.
Until Monday, only preliminary numbers or estimates were available on how much each county and municipality would receive. "It was kind of a moving target" as far how much the counties and municipalities would receive, McLinko said.
Under Act 13, Bradford County will continue to receive an allocation from the impact fee every year from now on.
The public will be able to see how the county's 2012 allocation will be spent, since there will be votes taken by the commissioners at their public meetings on how to distribute the allocation, the commissioners said.
In addition, under state regulations, the county will be required to post on its website how it spends its annual allocations, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith said.
"It's going to be completely transparent where the money goes," McLinko said.
Later this month, the county is expected to receive its 2012 allocation from the impact fee, which is $8.4 million.
To put in perspective the size of the $8.4 million allocation, the size of the Bradford County budget for 2012 is $57.7 million.
McLinko said he does not think there is a deadline by which the county will need to spend this year's allocation.
However, both McLinko and Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller have said they want to use part of the $8.4 million allocation to eliminate the county's debt. That would result in the elimination of the .65-mil "funded debt" portion of the county's property tax bill for 2013, McLinko said, and the commissioners would need to lock in that tax reduction through a vote in December 2012.
As far as how the county would spend the rest of this year's allocation and its allocations in future years, McLinko said Thursday that one possible use would be to undertake measures to address the overcrowding at the county jail, since part of the overcrowding resulted from a local population increase caused by gas drilling. However, McLinko says those measures would have to be something other than an addition onto the jail, which he opposes.
The county has been working with the Progress Authority on prioritizing projects and other items that the county could spend its impact fee revenue on, both in terms meeting the county's own needs and in terms of projects in local communities that the county could help to fund, Smith said. The prioritized list could address issues such as job creation, housing, and natural gas development, Smith said.
"We'll be looking at all these things," Smith said.
McLinko endorsed the Progress Authority study on Thursday, saying it was a "plan into the future" for how to spend the county's impact fee allocations.
The commissioners have talked about using some of the county's allocations to "leverage" other sources of revenue that would also help to pay for the certain proposed projects, such as a business park.
Smith said he agreed with Commissioner McLinko that the commissioners do not need to rush to decide how to spend the county's 2012 allocation. "I think a well-thought out approach to spending millions and millions of dollars is a good idea," Smith said.
Allocations to the county of impact fee revenue might end in the future if the state got a new governor who pushed to get a severance tax enacted on gas drilling, McLinko cautioned. McLinko explained that he believes that, under Act 13, if the state adopts a severance tax, the impact fee would automatically be discontinued.
The commissioners on Thursday voted to spend $46,552 in 2013 on the black fly suppression program, which is the same amount that it spent this year.
Smith said there was one year before he became commissioner when the county did not spray for black flies, and that resulted in a lot of complaints being lodged with the commissioners.
"I think the commissioners almost got run out of town," Smith said with a laugh.
If the DEP does not spray for black flies, also known as gnats, "it makes a large difference," Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller said.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.