Cumberland County commissioners learned Thursday that a $400,000 share of Marcellus Shale drilling impact fees could restore partial funding to the local agricultural conservation easement program.
The board on Dec. 20 passed a 2013 general fund budget void of a $250,000 grant for farmland preservation, citing a $1.7 million deficit as the culprit for a myriad of “painful” cutbacks. The decision represented the third-largest chunk of savings in the budget.
Planning department director Kirk Stoner then discovered another use for funds handed down to the county through the newly implemented Act 13.
Last year, state legislators passed Act 13, authorizing the distribution of $204 million in revenue collected from drilling companies operating wells in the Marcellus Shale region to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. This money, Stoner said during Thursday’s workshop meeting, can now be used to fund the farmland preservation initiative.
“The funding is coming from the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund...,” he said. “The annual amount of funding available to counties is based upon the number of natural gas wells drilled and the average price of natural gas over the previous year.”
The county received two separate types of funding from the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund.
“The first can be used for repair and replacement of ‘at risk’ bridges,” Stoner said. “We will receive $335,000 for that purpose. The other type of funding is for parks/open space purposes. We will receive $199,000 for that purpose.”
Stoner said the state will allocate an additional $200,000 in April for revenues generated in 2012.
As it stands, rollback tax interest from the Clean and Green program, coupled with state funding, still secures $1.17 million for the preservation of 325-350 acres of farmland in 2013.
“So total, we will get about $1.2 million for farmland preservation, if we do nothing else,” Stoner said. “We have a potential, if we look at past successes, of about $400,000 from federal funding, which would put the total program amount for 2013 at $1.6 million.”
Stoner said the federal farmland preservation grant program proves more competitive and stringent than the similar local initiative, but has been awarded to Cumberland County as recently as last year.
Stoner said the county instead can choose to spend the impact fees on the land partnerships grant program, which underwent a year-long revamp throughout 2012 to better address the preservation of parks, natural resources, green space and trails. The program has not received funding since its creation in 2006.
“From the staff level, I think what we would recommend, is considering taking the 2011 and 2012 allotments from the Act 13 funds and putting that into the land partnerships program and leaving the farmland preservation program as is given, that it already has $1.2 to $1.6 million already in it,” Stoner said.
Act 13 funds can be re-allocated every year depending on the county’s needs.
“In the future, we can look at the 2013 monies coming in and we can look and see if want to put those monies into farmland preservation at that time,” Stoner said. “This will be a regular decision for the board to make.”
Commissioners will decide on funding for the farmland preservation program at the 2 p.m. public meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The meeting also can be viewed live online at www.ccpa.net.