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Drilling impact fees help local budgets

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

As supervisors in Forward tried to do more with less tax money in recent years, cracking roads and potholes in the Butler County community grew into a bigger problem.

Now supervisors hope they have a solution.

The township got one of the largest payouts in the Pittsburgh region from the state's 2012 drilling impact fee. This year it's spending most of that $184,000 on aggressive road maintenance.

“It's nice to have that little extra cushion,” said Mark Wilson, chairman of the township's supervisors.

State officials this week are sorting through reports on such spending from 1,456 county and municipal governments that received money from the per-well impact fee. Local officials had until Monday to send forms to the Public Utility Commission showing they budgeted the money in line with state requirements. The PUC plans to release the data this week.

Municipal officials touted road projects such as Forward's in interviews. But there are other projects, such as $200,000 for parks and a community center in Chartiers, $150,000 for a dump truck in Washington Township, Westmoreland County, and $339,000 for the Cumberland, Greene County, police department, including a new car.

“I'm not saying they were all gas (related), but the police business is up, the police calls are up, people are complaining about trucks and noise,” said Bill Groves, chairman of the board of supervisors in Cumberland, which got the most money of any municipality in the state — $1,039,586.78.

“Not serious things, but people complain about them and we have to respond. It takes up our time,” he said.

Lawmakers passed the annual fee to address road and sewer line wear and tear and other costs from the gas boom's influx of drilling, trucks and people. Drillers paid $50,000 for every horizontal shale well and $10,000 for every vertical shale well in the state in 2011. The PUC divided the money, about $204 million, late last year. About 60 percent went to municipal and county governments, which can't apply property taxes to drilling sites.

At least one borough may not have followed the rules.

Because of the complicated formula state lawmakers passed to divide the money, Glenfield was one of about 200 municipalities statewide to get checks for less than $100.

It's more effort than it's worth to verify spending on such small amounts — $8.92, to be exact, for Glenfield, borough Secretary Janet Mascara said. Borough officials deposited the money in the general fund and didn't fill out the required form for the PUC, she said.

“What can you do with $8?” she asked. “Go to the bar and have a beer.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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