Ever have trouble filling out your income tax forms? Apparently, some of Pennsylvania’s local governments also had a hard time with the paperwork related to how they spent the shale gas impact fee money given to them in 2012.
The one-page form was due to the state by tax day –April 15. But three weeks later, millions remain unaccounted for.
The money is part of Pennsylvania’s year-old Act 13 law, which requires gas companies to pay a fee for each well they drill. The state Public Utility Commission (PUC) is charged with collecting information on how counties and municipalities are using the money.
This new reporting requirement only applies to areas where drilling is occurring; they received the majority of Act 13 funds.
“We’ve had some trouble with [local governments] following instructions,” says PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.
For example, Tioga County –which received over $4.7 million in impact fee money– filled out a long list of zeros on its PUC form, failing to disclose to the state where the money went.
However, the Tioga County website has a detailed list, which shows funds going toward transportation infrastructure and public safety.
The Tioga County Commissioners Assistant Chief Clerk, Janice Chamberlain, explained in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania, that’s because none of the money was spent in 2012. It was spent in 2013– which is why they listed zeros on the state form for reporting year 2012.But according to Kocher, even if the money was set aside with plans to spend it later, there is a category on the form for that.
She says the amount received in 2012 is still supposed to match the amount reported for 2012, and it should not be a zero.
Other local governments have done the same thing, in an apparent misunderstanding.
In Bradford County, South Creek Township secretary and treasurer Linda Leonard also filled the form with zeros, but she included a handwritten Post-It note to say the $139,504 would be spent on roads and public safety in 2013.
“I guess the hicks up here in Bradford County didn’t know what we were doing,” Leonard joked. “They better make their instructions clearer next time.”
Kocher says it may be tough for the PUC to track down and verify all the information.
“Under the law, we don’t have the authority to audit anyone.”
The state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, has expressed interest in looking into how local governments are spending their Act 13 money, but it’s on the back burner at the moment, according to spokesman Barry Ciccocioppo.
“It’s on the long list of things we want to get to.”
Kocher says the process may go more smoothly next year when the PUC switches from paper documents to electronic reporting.
In the meantime, the PUC plans to call back some local governments and ask them to resubmit the forms.