LYCOMING COUNTY, Pa. - With a limited amount of gas industry impact fee revenue coming to the county and its local municipalities, a clear idea of what industry impacts are is needed to make sure the money is spent wisely.
Lycoming County believes it holds the key to understanding those impacts in the form of two studies presented to the county commissioners.
The studies, which focus on housing, water and sewer infrastructure, may be the first of their kind in the state, said William Kelly, deputy director of the county Department of Planning and Community Development.
The studies identify impacts and challenges specific to a specific study area and list recommendations for dealing with them.
Separating fact from fiction was a major goal of the studies, Kelly said.
The studies also define, in plain language, conditions as they were prior to the development of the Marcellus Shale and how those conditions have changed in recent years.
The need for the studies was recognized long ago by the commissioners in anticipation of Act 13, which is legislation enabling the imposition of an impact fee on the gas industry, Kelly said.
The county provided a list of 40 potential impacts to Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Commission on which Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland and Dr. Vincent Matteo, president and CEO of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, were members.
The legislation "distilled" the county's list into 13 items eligible for funding with impact fee revenue. The county's studies focus on four broad areas: housing, water and sewer infrastructure, transportation and human services, education and justice, Kelly said. The latter two studies are expected to be presented to the commissioners in November.
The timing of the latter two studies' release is important because money collected by the state through Act 13 is expected to be distributed on or around Dec. 1, Kelly said.
"I don't know if we'll get the check then, but we'll be ready," he said.
The studies were the result of months of work by county planning staff, stakeholder groups and Mechanicsburg-based consulting firm Delta Development Group.
The work included reviewing existing documents, interviewing key participants, creating focus groups, and collecting and analyzing data, Kelly said. Even then, the study was not complete.
We "wrote and rewrote the study until we got it right," he said.
The study will be used not only to guide the spending of local impact fee revenue but to make a case for other sources of funding.
The county is expected to receive about $10 million, which will be split about evenly between its government and that of local municipalities.
Commissioners Wheeland, Tony R. Mussare and Ernie Larson all spoke favorably about the studies. Wheeland said the studies are of particular importance because the need for funding far exceeds the amount available.
"The counties and municipalities have got to take the limited Act 13 dollars and spend them wisely ... so we can get the best bang for our buck," he said.
Michael Fisher, chief of the SEDA-Council of Governments housing program, said he believes the studies are the first of their kind in the state.
Fisher said he sits on a number of state boards, all of which "recognize this county as a leader."
"Other counties will look to you or try to do something similar," he predicted.
Also attending the meeting were Matteo; Christine Weigle, executive director of the county Water and Sewer Authority; Walter Nicholson, director of operations for the Williamsport Sanitary Authority; and Lycoming College professor Jonathan Williamson, all of whom contributed to the development of the studies.
City Mayor Gabriel J. Campana was on hand to thank the county for its work. Campana said he looks forward to seeing the results of the study.