Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA COUNTY: Commissioners enact gas drilling fee

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on April 12, 2012 2:15 AM

The Indiana County commissioners Wednesday unanimously approved an ordinance implementing the unconventional gas well impact fee in Indiana County, clearing the way for municipalities to receive a share of the money drillers will start paying to the state on each unconventional natural gas well.

Based on preliminary projections from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Indiana County's 38 municipalities may share nearly $477,000 in the first year from the impact fee. None of the county's municipalities will get rich from the new fee. The payout will be calculated on several factors, including the number of wells within the municipality, the municipality's population and total road miles and the fluctuating price of gas. Only a few will receive payments expected to exceed $50,000 annually, and many will get payments of only a few hundred dollars each year.

"The dollars that will come to the county (through the impact fee) will not be huge," said Commissioner Patricia Evanko. But, she added, the impact fee money may help offset some of the cuts in state funding for human services programs in the county. And the cash may help municipalities avoid tax increases for some of the services they provide, she said.

In addition to the dollars that will be distributed to municipalities, Indiana County may get another $443,000 as its share for being an eligible host county to unconventional gas wells and through statewide initiatives, bringing the county's total estimated impact fee payment for 2011 to more than $919,000.

The commissioners also approved a resolution signifying their position that a planned student housing and recreation center to be built between South Seventh Street and Rice Avenue on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus will be good for the community. Their endorsement was needed for a $20 million bond issue by the Indiana County Industrial Development Authority. The money will then be loaned to the IUP Student Cooperative Association for construction.

There was no opposition to the building plan during a public hearing Wednesday morning.

The co-op, an independent arm of the university that administers student activity fees, plans to build a two-story, 40,900-square-foot building with three basketball courts and an indoor running track. A private developer is proposing to build student apartments on the top floor.

The bond will cover only the association's portion of building. The co-op plans to repay the borrowed money through a permanent $44 per-semester increase in the student activity fee.

The commissioners also approved a state grant application of $38,177 for the county's house arrest with electronic monitoring program. Denise Delancey, the county's chief probation officer, said the grant amount will cover a portion of the salary for a probation officer who monitors the program. According to Delancey, the option to sentence offenders to house arrest with electronic monitoring saves 4,000 jail-days each year, a savings to the county, according to the commissioners, of $228,000 annually.

The commissioners also issued several proclamations:

---> April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, recognizing that one in five women will experience sexual assault by the time she completes her college education.

---> April 15-21 as National Volunteer Week, recognizing that 28 percent of Pennsylvanians volunteer in some way.

"A lot of people do volunteer, and without them, we would struggle," said Commissioner Dave Frick, adding that those who don't volunteer miss out on the satisfaction of being part of something larger than themselves. "They deny themselves a real satisfaction," he said.

---> April 9-13 as Human Services Local Legislative Work Week, recognizing that counties furnish the majority of human services programs. Leaders of county human services programs will meet today with local legislators to discuss cuts in state funding for the programs.

---> A special proclamation was issued recognizing Wayne Lockard and his extended family for their many business investments and achievements in the county.

The commissioners also proclaimed April as Fair Housing Month to bring attention to the right of county residents to live where they want without prejudice and discrimination.

The commissioners designated Randy Foster, of the Indiana County Community Action Program, to be the county's fair housing officer. His duties will include receiving complaints on housing discrimination and taking appropriate action to resolve them.

And Bonni Dunlap, executive director of the county's Department of Human Services, was designated the county's coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her duties will include receiving complaints from residents having problems accessing the county services and programs.

The commissioners also accepted a low bid of $23,860 from Quaker Sales, of Johnstown, for seal coating Blue Spruce Park Road.

Wednesday's meeting began with tributes to Roger Reschini, the Indiana businessman and civic leader who died earlier in the morning.

"Roger truly has been a loyalist to Indiana County," said commission Chairman Rod Ruddock. "His heart to Indiana County was equal to his generosity to Indiana County."

Ruddock said Reschini had an especially strong passion for improvements at the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport.

"Roger was instrumental in drawing dollars into that project that we wouldn't have seen," Ruddock said, adding that Reschini would go to state and federal offices and come back and say, "I think I've found the money you need."

"We're going to miss him dearly," Ruddock said.

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