Planning commission members take issue with county allocations of impact fees

SMETHPORT — The McKean County Planning Commission on Tuesday ranked applications from municipalities and organizations seeking funding for at-risk bridges and greenways projects through the Act 13 impact fees.

The fees are derived from unconventional gas well fees and distributed to local and state governments to cover the local impacts of drilling.

The county received $548,649 in impact fees, but the county commissioners used $450,067 to balance the county's 2019 budget to avoid a tax increase. That left $81,329 available for at-risk bridges and $37,301 for greenways projects.

Receiving the top score for bridges was the application from Liberty Township, which requested $65,271,45 for the Upper Portage Road Bridge. Second in the scoring was Keating Township's request for $61,000 for the complete replacement of the Kent Hollow Bridge.

Commission members voted to completely fund the Upper Portage Road Bridge project and allocate the remainder, $16,057.55, for the Kent Hollow Bridge.

Meanwhile, commission members' highest score for greenways projects went to the Kinzua Valley Trail Club, which asked for $29,200 for the trailhead at Tally Ho. Second in the rankings went to the MJ2KB Trail Club, requesting $37,138 for Knox-Kane drainage improvements.

After some discussion, commission members agreed to divide the available funds on a 60-40 basis — $22,380.60 to the Kinzua Valley Trail Club and $14,920.40 to MJ2KB Trail Club.

These recommendations now go to the county commissioners for final action.

Prior to evaluating these projects, planning commission Vice-President Richard Kallenborn again this year took issue with the county commissioners using more than $450,000 for "their own purposes" and leaving a small amount for the bridges and greenways. "They're keeping the lion’s share, while we're divvying out crumbs," he said. "Personally, and this is my opinion, I feel Act 13 funds should pass through the county to the communities impacted by the oil and gas activities. This is a slap in the face. A lot of effort went into the 12 applications, and the municipalities are being slighted by the county commissioners. All things are not fair to the municipalities."

A former county commissioner, Kallenborn said when he was in office, "we found ways to balance the budget."

Fellow commission members Butch Schaffer and Ron Keim agreed with Kallenborn. Schaffer said, "$61,000 for 22 municipalities is a joke."

County Planner Jeremy Morey noted that this year's available funding for bridges is $61,000. Added to this amount is approximately $20,000 in leftover funds.

Keim added, "Had we had more money, we could have recommended funding for many worthwhile projects."

Responding to a commission member's question, Morey said that in his talks with the county commissioners, they have stated that using Act 13 funds to avoid tax increases is an allowable use under the law since it's a service to the county.

Kallenborn replied, "The bottom line is that forces a tax hike on the municipalities."

Keim suggested citizens contact their state legislators to amend Act 13 by restricting uses for the impact fees.

In other matters, planning commission President Tony Clarke and Kallenborn were reelected.