MONTROSE -- The natural gas industry has paid about $1 billion to the state, counties, and local governments since 2012.
It's all thanks to the impact fee created by state lawmakers and now, the auditor general says millions of those dollars have been spent on "questionable expenses."
The impact fee funnels money back to counties as well as townships and boroughs where drilling for natural gas has made an impact.
The audit released Tuesday finds some questionable ways that money has been spent in several counties in our area.
Work continues on the multimillion-dollar renovation project at the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose. Commissioners paid for the upgrades by spending more than $5 million from the state's impact fee on things including payroll in the D.A.'s office, probation, and the jail.
That freed up enough money in the budget to pay for the overhaul to the courthouse.
"How does restoring that have anything to do with gas and wells?" asked Montrose resident Joe Krantwashl.
"Without this Act 13 money being used where we did, we'd be raising taxes substantially to get all the things done that are being done today," said Comm. Alan Hall, (R) Susquehanna County.
Commissioners asked the state to clarify where the county could spend the impact fee money but were left to interpret what was OK from 13 categories ranging from rebuilding roads to reducing taxes.
"Theoretically we are reducing taxes when we use the money to pay for payroll at the jail to free up revenue to get the building into compliance so it's safe," Hall said.
Now the state auditor general is pointing to Susquehanna County's use of impact fee money, as well its uses in Bradford and Lycoming Counties, as reasons for lawmakers to further define what's OK to pay for and what's not.
"This is about how the impact fee has been used and where improvements can be made," said Eugene DePasquale, (D) Pennsylvania Auditor General.
"If they get this money and it's available, then the county should have a say in where it's needed. But they need to have strict guidelines not to waste it," said Esther Welden of Montrose.
Folks we spoke with wonder if there are better ways to spend the impact fee money that relate directly to the impact of the natural gas industry.
"Just the roadways themselves, they did use some of it for that there are some roads that have been neglected and left to go to pot," laughed Pamela Derose of Montrose.
Commissioner Hall believes the definition of what impact fee money can be used for isn't clear enough. He hopes the auditor general's report leads to better guidelines for spending all those millions of dollars here in our area.