When the state Legislature passed Act 13 in February, county and local officials across the state expressed some excitement and more than a little trepidation over whether impact fees for Marcellus Shale gas well drilling would go far enough to compensate for the disruptions and damage blamed on drilling for the valuable resource over the past five or so years.
But now, county officials are finding themselves scrambling to figure out how they will maintain human services, such as those aimed at children, the poor and elderly, in the face of a 10 to 20 percent cut in the state budget.
The impact fee?
No longer the big deal that it was a year ago in the discussion stages, many county officials say.
“It’s a drop in the bucket on one hand, but, with the cuts the governor has given us, it could be a significant amount,” said Butler County Commissioners Chairman William McCarrier, a Republican who expects the county to lose as much as $1 million if a proposal by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett for 20 percent budget cuts in human services funds to counties is passed.
The Senate has recently proposed restoration of about half of those funds in the state budget, but that would still leave counties on the hook for a 10 percent cut in funding for services like mental health/mental retardation, children and youth, senior transportation and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.