Washington, Greene, municipalities receiving Marcellus impact fees

October 20, 2012

The Washington County Public Safety Department’s 12-year-old hazardous materials truck, before being refurbished and put into service, was used to deliver beer.It’s becoming difficult to find replacement parts, so Director Jeff Yates would like to replace it at a cost of $200,000.That’s just one of the entries on a so-called wish list sent to the Washington County commissioners by department heads who were asked to submit their priorities for use of the county’s approximately $4 million Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling impact fee share.Money has not yet been deposited in county or municipal coffers, but county Finance Director Roger Metcalfe expects it to arrive next month.Washington County tries to allocate about a half-million dollars each year for capital improvements, and some of those may be covered by the impact fee, such as roof replacement at the 911 center and courthouse, estimated at $500,000; replacement of soon-to-be-obsolete computer network switches, $220,000; new carpeting in the Alzheimer’s wing, a nurses’ station and third-floor lighting, all at the county health center, $725,000; and a generator and emergency power circuits for the courthouse, $250,000.

Yates also has requested two new positions, one of which would deal with homeland security and the other a safety manager to handle planning, training and working with all aspects of the gas well industry.With the county beginning a series of budget hearings Monday, the commissioners will have a host of decisions to make about what to pay for from which revenue stream, what not to fund and what to delay. Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan said this week of the impact money, “We haven’t decided what we’re going to do with that. Some of that money should be used to pay down debt.”Asked what they have in mind for the money, both commission Chairman Larry Maggi and Commissioner Harlan Shober mentioned road and bridge projects, noting that the county has many structurally deficient bridges. Maggi also put forth public water and sewerage as possibilities, and talked of a legacy fund of between $500,000 and $1 million to “help with unforeseen issues and problems that may arise from development of Marcellus Shale.”Shober commented, “We’re very fortunate in Washington County that we have both the local share account and now we have the Marcellus Shale impact fee.”The local share account comes from gambling revenues from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, which generates about $8 million for municipal and county projects. The impact fee is also providing a cash infusion for municipalities within Washington County. In Hopewell Township, which is slated to receive $500,000, an amount considerably higher than its annual budget, which was $315,432 in 2009, Supervisor Nancy Brandenburg said the board has not discussed what they will do with the impact fee, but added, “I’m sure we’ll find something.”She went on to say the township could always update its road equipment, and while repairs can be made to some roads, the gas extraction companies have fixed many of the roads they have been using.In Greene County, officials have plans for the $3.1 million the county will receive.As in Washington County, heading the list are two roof-replacement projects, at the courthouse and at the Fort Jackson Building at the corner of Washington and High streets in Waynesburg.While those projects may not be glamorous, commission Chairwoman Pam Snyder said they are necessary and immediate because in both instances public safety is at issue.In addition to the money earmarked for the county, municipalities have also qualified for significant dollars whether or not gas drilling is taking place within their boundaries.For example, Cumberland Township has had 116 unconventional wells drilled and will receive $1,039,586 in impact fee money. The wells are referred to as “unconventional” because they are drilled into an unconventional geologic shale formation. One example would be shale below the base of sandstone or its geological equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing.Waynesburg Borough, which has no well drilling, is scheduled to receive $146,579 because its streets and bridges are affected by construction and drilling vehicle traffic.Snyder said even though these municipalities are receiving impact fee allocations, from Cumberland Township’s high of just over $1 million to a low of $9,348 for Clarksville Borough, the county is receiving requests for money.“We are getting these requests from fire departments and municipal authorities,” she said. So what the county might consider next year is establishing a competitive matching infrastructure improvement grant program.“This steady stream of money also will enable us to perhaps avoid a tax increase or even lower property taxes. The money that we would have had to budget for these projects is now coming from another source, and this will free up our general fund,” she said.Other projects being considered include extending the Greene River Trail, making upgrades to the 911 system, doing some rehabilitation work at the fairgrounds, using some of the money for the county’s airport project and repairing some of the county’s bridges.“And one thing we will try and do is make up the shortfall in funding for human services and make sure that department’s funding is whole,” Snyder said.Staff writer Christie Campbell contributed to this story.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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Jon Stevens was the Observer-Reporter’s Greene County bureau chief. During his 41 years with the O-R, he covered county government, courts and politics, and won statewide and regional writing awards.

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