Time is running out for Pennsylvania’s communities to decide whether to impose an impact fee on gas companies.
That issue was the focus of a meeting Monday night in Bradford County, where a majority of the state’s gas wells are located.
County leaders say as the deadline approaches, they are feeling the pressure but still don’t understand how the fee works.
If counties across the state applied an annual impact fee on natural gas drilling, state Senator Gene Yaw (R-23rd) believes Pennsylvania could make $350 million by 2015.
Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed a bill in February, leaving the option of imposing that fee up to county officials.
However Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko, also a Republican, says this decision is being forced on them with little information.
“The clock started ticking, we get the bill and it was like, here you go folks, you figure it out,” said McLinko.
McLinko and the two other commissioners invited state officials to Towanda to clarify the impact fee.
Senator Yaw told them the county has the choice to vote on imposing the fee. If they do, then the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, or PUC, would step in.
“The PUC, through the formula that is laid out in Act 13, will collect the money, will disperse the money,” said Pamela Whitmar, a PUC commissioner.
The PUC would then funnel the majority of the funds back to the local governments, which is split between the county and its municipalities.
There is a list of things that money can be used for.
“Health and human services to judicial to roads to a variety of things,” said State Representative Tina Pickett (R-110th).
The two Republican commissions in Bradford County admit they’re wary of the fee.
“What the funds must be used for, one of them being construction of roads, bridges and public infrastructure which is currently being addressed by the gas companies,” said Republican Commissioner Daryl Miller.
The lone Democratic commissioner supports the fee.
“This is something we need to cover our costs in local government, to make sure we can provide all the services necessary for people,” said Commissioner Mark Smith.
The impact fee issue also has county residents divided.
Some say the benefits are already here.
“More opportunity created, businesses have never done as well as they are now,” said Steve Decker of South Creek Township.
Others say there’s more opportunity out there.
“If there’s money available then we should have it, there’s all kinds of things it can be used for, “said Martha Abell of Rome.
If the county commissioners reject the fee, a majority of township officials could vote to impose a fee themselves.
However Republican Commissioner Doug McLinko says if there’s support from the townships, he will support a county-wide fee.
The deadline is April 16.