Pennsylvania

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Local governments fail to account for $17 million in impact fee money

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Municipal and county governments across the state have failed to account for how $17 million in natural gas impact money was spent.

Nearly half the local townships and boroughs receiving impact money and a quarter of the counties did not send required reports this month to the state Public Utility Commission (PUC).

“We don’t have a lot of them at this point, but they do tend to trickle in,” says PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

The forms, which document how last year’s impact fee money was spent, were due on April 15th. Although the PUC is charged with collecting the forms, it does not have the legal authority to audit them.

The state Auditor General’s office has expressed interest in examining how the money is being spent, but it hasn’t committed to it yet, says spokeswoman Susan Woods.

“It’s something we could possibly look at in the future.”

The state’s two-year-old oil and gas law, known as Act 13, levies a fee on natural gas companies for every well they drill, and much of that money is sent directly back to local governments hosting drillers. However, the law puts limits how counties and municipalities are allowed to spend the money.  It’s confined to 13 specific categories– ranging from road and infrastructure projects, to emergency preparedness, and tax reductions.

Last year was the first time local governments were required to send in the reports, and the process was fraught with a significant amount of confusion. The PUC had hoped to streamline things with an electronic filing system, but it hasn’t happened yet. Many of the forms are handwritten and some contain mathematical errors.

Centre County was among the local governments that did not send in a form.

“I’m not sure what could have happened. I’m shocked,” says Susan Hannegan, of the county’s planning office. “I thought someone else had mailed it.”

The law also requires local governments to post the forms on their own websites. Hannegan points out Centre County has already done that.

About 1,500 counties and local governments receive impact fees for hosting drilling within their borders.

Based on what has been reported so far, most of the $98.9 million handed out last year went to public infrastructure construction, emergency preparedness, or it was set aside in capital reserve funds.

Source: Pa. Public Utility Commission

 

Comments

  • Fracked

    Yes, I would like to know where the millions of dollars that Dimock is getting from impact fee money is going. Anyone know? Matt?

    • Ladderback

      Dimock Twp is a township of 30 sq miles (just slightly less than Manhattan). There is no village/city/borough/town of Dimock. Are you referring to the Township?

      • Brett Jennings

        Last year’s substitutions I Noticed that 1/4 municipalities did not submit the form for Susquehanna County and of the rest many were incorrect including the one from the county. Dimock did receive the max the last two years. I may just have to look at that again, since I sent e-mails out for this last year to the other municipalities.

  • Ladderback

    Hard to believe that some of the 2600 PA local governments may not have reported a windfall correctly.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/veraduerga Vera Scroggins

    we need to attend regularly the township meetings and question where the money is going? I attend regularly the county and my township meetings and ask them where it goes and why they chose that particular way of spending it and tape it so, it’s public record, their responses…I am in Susquehanna County, Pa..

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/veraduerga Vera Scroggins

    look how little was spent on : Water preservation and reclamation: out of the total of almost $99 million statewide: $7,296.00 !! ; that seems to be less than 1% of the total and $951,211.94 for Environmental Programs. !! Pitiful and shows where their focus is
    it’s away from water and environmental issues…..local governments still avoiding the real
    issues. !!

  • http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M18178 Maggie Henry

    Fully 1/3 of it went into a CAPITAL RESERVE Fund – any idea what that is? Since these are “impact” fees it is reasonable to assume money was spent those “impacted”? Where is that line item?

    • Megan Lehman

      Yes. I work for a county government receiving Act 13 funds, so I know a little bit about this subject. There are 13 eligible uses for the money and capital reserve is one of them. Act 13 recipients have the option of saving and accumulating the funds from year to year, but they must ultimately be spent on an eligible project or activity (water, sewer, transportation, etc.). This is a very good idea if a municipality is planning to use the funds on a large project like a bridge replacement, for example. Since no one knows for sure how long Act 13 payments will be coming, and some of the long-term, cumulative impacts may not be immediately apparent, it’s better to take a long view than to spend it the second it comes in.

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