KANE — As the amount of timber being cut on the Allegheny National Forest continues to dwindle, so too does the impact fees for those townships and school districts which benefit from those timber sales.
A letter dated March 18 from the U.S. Forest Service indicates that McKean County townships are projected to receive a total of $253,724.77 in federal money from timber sales on the forest. The figure is down from last year’s figure of $317,548.01 and from when the federal timber money peaked for townships in 2006 at $719,316.55.
Wetmore Township is one of the townships affected by the decrease in timber revenue. The township is projecting a total of $50,159.56 in timber impact fees in 2015, down from $62,776.94 last year. Township Supervisor Elaine Bodistow said the declining revenue from the timber sales is presenting challenges for Wetmore Township.
“It’s a challenge each year,” Bodistow said. “It’s expensive to pave.”
Bodistow expects some of the larger township paving projects will be fewer and farther between, perhaps only paving every three to four years instead of every one to two years. She said increased timber cut and sale would help her township out considerably, noting that funds formerly coming from the timber sales will have to be made up in other ways.
Meanwhile, Corydon Township has been hit exceptionally hard by the lack of the timber sales on the forest, with the township projected to receive $81,094.33 in 2015, down from $101,493.21 last year and $229,904.60 in 2006. Corydon Township Supervisor chairman Tim Yohe said the forest comprises 42,722.3 acres — or 94 percent — of property owned in the township.
Yohe said the lack of timber sales on the forest will, at some point, be “fairly catastrophic” for his township as Corydon Township receives less that $7,000 annually in property taxes. He said the townships have no major projects scheduled and will patch roads instead of paving them. Yohe noted the lack of funds have led to decreased contributions to the Corydon Township Volunteer Fire Department, a fire company usually called to fight fires and rescue people on the forest.
Hamilton Township is the home to the second largest amount of forest-owned land in McKean County, behind Corydon Township with 30,785.76 acres.
The township is projected to receive $58,435.76 this year, down from the 2014 figure of $73,134.99. Supervisor Becky Davidson said that comes out to the federal government paying the township $1.90 per acre. Davidson said township taxpayers are shouldering the burden imposed on them by the federal government, as the township had to raise property taxes for the first time in 18 years.
“Our residents have to suffer because (the federal government) doesn’t pay their fair share,” Davidson said.
School districts and townships receive money from timber cuts through the 1908 Good Neighbor Compact, which calls for a 25 percent payment provision from timber sales on the Allegheny to go specifically to benefit schools and roads within the forest boundaries. However, the federal government has been touting the Secure Rural Schools program as an alternative to the 25 percent payments.
Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group (AHUG) executive director Sue Swanson said the 25 percent program benefits not only the schools and townships with the payments but also the local economy with more jobs. Swanson said the Secure Rural Schools program was originally intended to be a stopgap measure if the timber sales were down, and not to be a replacement for the 25 percent payments.
Ruth Sutton, the public affairs officer for the Allegheny National Forest, described the 25 percent payments from timber sales on the forest as “significantly less” than those of the Secure Rural Schools program. However, Sutton also confirmed the Forest Service would not increase the number of timber sales in favor of “several broad landscape-based projects that when implemented, should provide increased quantity and quality of timber.”
For his part, Bradford Area School District School board president Paul Ridley said his district is expected to receive approximately $120,000 in 2015, down from $360,000 at its peak in 2007. Ridley said the school district was fortunate not to have the timber money as a large portion of its budget. However, he acknowledged the loss of $250,000 over the last several years was still substantial.
“A dollar of revenue lost is a dollar of revenue lost,” Ridley said.
Meanwhile, Kane Area School District business manager Stephen Perry said his district is expected to receive $180,590.62 in 2015 — a 25.9 percent decrease from last year. Perry said the figure includes a 7.3 percent reduction from the 2013 federal government sequestration. He noted the district received the largest amount of money from the timber sales in the 1996-97 school year when Kane received $608,301. However, with timber revenue decreasing and operations expenses increasing over the last eight years, Perry said it’s become “very difficult to operate a school district.”
As the chairman of the subcommittee on conservation and forestry, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., acknowledged the revenue coming in from timber sales is “not sufficient.” However, Thompson said harvesting has not been the issue as much as the demand or value.
Thompson said that 38,999,000 board feet were harvested on the forest in 2014, up from 17,943,000 board feet in 2010. He also noted already in 2015, 13 million board feet have been harvested in the first quarter of this year.
However, with demand down, so goes value. Thompson also stressed that better marketing will lead to an increased demand for Pennsylvania hardwood, which will put money back into the townships and the school districts on the forest.
“We all need to be working on that,” Thompson said. “When it comes to value, you have to change the mind of consumers.”