Measuring the impact

Pictured is the Sheshequin Township municipal building, which doubles as an American Red Cross emergency shelter, and was funded by the impact fee.

With this year’s impact fee allocations across the state being the highest total since the law’s creation in 2012, the influx of cash from the natural gas industry to local coffers is sure to present plenty of opportunities for counties and municipalities.

Of a statewide figure of $252 million, Bradford County will be receiving $6.2 million — $1.2 million more than last year’s Act 13 allocation and the third most of any county in the state.

According to county Commissioner Doug McLinko, there’s no hard plan or idea to spend that money — yet.

“We’re banking it,” he said. “We’re saving it for the future for right now, and we’re going to evaluate where we are throughout the county and see where we’re at.”

County officials currently have several impact fee-funded projects underway — most notably the ongoing construction of the county’s new 911 and public safety center in North Towanda.

The approximately $13 million, 25,000-square-foot, multi-story facility will include a 6,350-square-foot maintenance garage and office space for numerous operations, including the county’s sheriff’s office, planning office, and emergency and 911 operations.

McLinko said the county is also continuing work on its bridge bundling project, which includes the replacement and/or repair of seven county-owned bridges over the next two years.

“Without the impact fee, the bridge projects would take forever,” he said. “The impact fee allows us to be able to focus on some of the most structurally-deficient bridges in the county and do it relatively quickly.”

McLinko added that the county would have also eventually been able to build the 911 center, but it would not be the “state-of-the-art” facility that is currently being constructed.

“For us as commissioners, the whole point of the impact fee is to spend it in ways that benefit all taxpayers,” he said. “It’s their money.”

McLinko explained that the endeavors, such as the $4 million replacement of the courthouse roof a couple of years ago, are most often paid for right away with no future financial burden.

“We want to do everything we can and get it all done now so it’s all taken care of for decades,” he said. “For the roof, it had not been done since 1929, and even then it wasn’t placed properly. So not only did the impact fee allow us to do that, but it also let us put back the original-style copper roofing to maintain the historical integrity of the building.”

In rural counties such as Sheshequin, where road miles and gas wells are plentiful, but revenue is often not, the impact fee is considered “manna from heaven,” at least according to township supervisor Kurt Lafy.

His township is slated to receive over $200,000 from the impact fee, which will allow the municipality to continue its replacement of several bridges, said Lafy.

“We have some bridges that are inspected by the state — those are the bigger bridges — but we’re responsible for them,” he said. “Two of those bridges are beyond reproach. They’re not in any danger or anything like that, but they do need to be replaced.”

Because of the cash boost from Act 13, the township is able to replace both of those bridges over the course of this year and next year, the supervisor explained. The bridge located on Goose Hollow Road is be replaced this year,while the structure on Crowley Hollow Road will be on next year’s slate.

“After that, we have about five or six tiny crossings that are on our radar,” Lafy said. “We have the money. We are going to do this. We’re going to keep going with these necessary infrastructure repairs, and they’ll be set for the next 50 to 75 years — all because of the impact fee.”

Lafy noted that the “giant financial cushion” that Act 13 has given the township has had a domino effect across the other municipality’s accounts — allowing officials to use liquid fuels money for equipment purchases that would not have been possible before.

“We’re ahead of the game. We got the money in the bank. So let’s do this,” he said. “We’re doing our best to use the money wisely. Sheshequin has a great crew up there. We work well together, and I look forward to working with them for many more years.”

Johnny Williams can be reached at (570) 888-9643 ext. 232 or jwilliams@morning-times.com. Follow Johnny Williams on Twitter @johnnywMT

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