Smith criticizes Miller, McLinko
TOWANDA– Following Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko’s comments to The Associated Press this week, the county’s two other commissioners weighed in on their thoughts on the state’s proposed impact fee on the Marcellus Shale drilling operations.
It is expected Gov. Tom Corbett will sign the fee legislation next week, according to Associated Press reports.
As the commissioners are divided on the topic, the board has 60 days to vote on the issue. Based on comments of the commissioners over the past two days, it is expected that the fee will not be adopted locally.
If it is not passed by the commissioners, the roughly 50 municipalities within the county will be asked to vote on the issue within 60 days after the commissioner’s vote.
Commissioner Daryl Miller confirmed Friday that he plans to vote against the impact fee, while Commissioner Mark Smith said he would vote to accept the funding generated by the fee.
“It would be extremely foolish to not implement the fee,” Smith said Friday. “It would probably be the worst public policy in the county for this not to be adopted.”
Miller said he was against the fee and “against any additional taxes.” He also feels the bill has many problems.
“I doubt, the way (the bill is) worded that (municipalities) can use all the money they get for road repair,” said Miller, adding that municipalities have other responsibilities in addition to road repairs.
Smith agreed that the bill was not perfect. However, he said he feels it is a good opportunity for the county.
“I think it’s the best opportunity the county has,” said Smith in terms of funding for the county. “For the future benefit of our county, this is a critical moment.”
“I know that my other commissioner colleagues are making statements against the impact fee,” said Smith. “I think anybody can see what we’ve dealt with over the past few years; we’ve had to raise costs in the county.”
He gave the example of the county raising salaries to keep up with the industry and also gave the example of the county correctional facility needing an expansion, which would cost county taxpayers around $500,000.
“The fact that my two colleagues are staring a jail expansion of nearly half a million dollars in the face should be proof enough to the public,” Smith stated.
Smith said he cannot believe the other commissioners would rather have this be taken out of local property taxes instead of the impact fee.
“I think it’s absolutely foolish,” said Smith, adding that “I hope the people of Bradford County don’t stand for it because its just plain wrong.”
He said the cost to expand the jail would not end with the building. The expanded facility would also require 24-hour staffing that would not be a one-time cost, he added.
“To see my colleagues go and say they would rather spend the county fund balance instead of using the impact fee, blows my mind and is infuriating,” said Smith.
He added that he would not vote for the expansion of the county jail if it is being funded out of the county property tax revenue when the county has the opportunity to implement an impact fee.
“It’s not right and it’s not fair to the taxpayers,” said Smith.
“Furthermore in terms of utilization, there are so many positive things that can be done for our county, for our community by utilizing this impact fee–things we couldn’t do before,” Smith stated. “I mean, we cut human services. We are certainly not providing the services we could and should be providing. They have people on waiting lists for mental health in our mental retardation department. We have volunteer firefighter and ambulance crews around the county that need resources, need help. All of those types of things could be helped by an impact fee and we would be shortchanging our residents by not implementing it.”
Miller said the gas industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the county repairing roads.
“My biggest issue,” Miller stated, “is these companies are bringing jobs to this area.”
He added that there are millions in tax dollars that have come into the state due to the industry.
“(The industry) has added $35 million in added assessed property tax value to this area,” said Miller. Thus, he stated, equates roughly $1 million more in property tax revenue to Bradford county.
“Without this impact fee, we are growing our tax base, but what the state is trying to do is to add more tax on top,” said Miller, “in essence pushing them from this area.”
Miller said he believes the impact fee will push the gas industry away from the state and that he has heard from those within the industry that cannot afford to add more costs on top of the low natural gas rates.
Smith disagreed on this issue, saying the county has some of the highest producing gas wells in the nation and he does not feel the impact fee will affect the gas industry presence in the county.
He also said during deliberations while the bill was being written gas companies, such as those involved in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, were involved in the process and supported the impact fee. So it would not be a “shock” to the industry if the impact fee is passed, Smith added.
“This is not a surprise for (the gas industry). They have been in the room...right alongside the governor’s office (as the bill was written),” said Smith.
“This impact fee, what stays here, is going to be nowhere near enough to do what townships are going to have to do,” said Miller. “Basically what we’ve done, we’re taking it away from gas companies the obligation of fixing roads they’ve damaged and pushed it back on the townships.”
Miller gave the example of his hometown, Terry Township, where the gas companies have made roughly $2 million in repairs to the roads over the past two years. He said if the impact fee is implemented, the township would instead get just under $3 million over the course of 15 years.
“The thing that’s bothersome to me is we call it an impact fee, but all we get locally is 60 percent,” stated Miller. He said the rest of the funds go to other parts of the state.
Concerns over local zoning ordinances were also voiced by Miller.
“This bill will trump local zoning ordinances,” said Miller, adding that local municipalities will not be able to set zoning in their own municipality regarding gas exploration.
While the commissioners have almost two months after the governor’s signing of the bill to decide their stance, Smith said he hopes the other commissioners change their tune.
“I hope within that time frame, these two come to their senses,” said Smith.