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