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Why natural gas-rich Greene County is going broke


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 8, 2021
Going bust, big relief, mask up, tax plan, 'Doc' arrest, the elk economy, and absinthe weddings. It's Monday, welcome to the week.

Despite receiving millions of dollars in natural gas drilling impact fees, Greene County is struggling to balance its budget and raising property taxes for the first time in more than a decade, Spotlight PA reports, begging questions about the financial lifeline offered by Pennsylvania's slowing fossil fuel industry

The initial windfall seemed to buy Greene County time to figure out how to survive financially as its cornerstone industry, coal mining, all but vanished. The county regularly used impact fee shares to shore up budgets that might otherwise have collapsed. Critics say the money was also used for wasteful and shortsighted projects.

But as drilling slows, impact fee payments will as well, and without major changes, officials warn Greene County could go broke by 2023.

THE CONTEXT: In 2012, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 13 into law, overhauling the state’s oil and gas law and providing municipalities revenue from fees imposed on wells drilled within their borders. 

In the first year of the program, Greene County was compensated $3 million in impact fees, while an influx of transient oil and gas workers provided a much-need boost to the local economy. 

As the gas industry started to slow, however, the number of workers from out of town dropped, along with the number of wells being drilled and overall natural gas prices — a key in the formula used to determine impact fee shares. 

“We tried every other opportunity we could, slashing all those expenses,” Greene County Commissioner Mike Belding said. “We just couldn’t get there. So we made the hard decision to increase taxes.”


“What happened to Ezell was a grave injustice.” 

—Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on the case of Paul Ezell, a former doctor jailed for growing marijuana he maintained was for his dying wife
VACCINE UPDATE: Early reports indicate the U.S. administered a record 5.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines over the weekend, while public health officials continue to warn against lifting virus-inspired restrictions too quickly. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: Thanks, Robert S., for this shot of the Appalachian Trail. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

YEAS HAVE IT: The U.S. Senate narrowly passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill over the weekend with $1,400 stimulus check and extended unemployment benefit provisions still intact. Pennsylvania's two senators were split along party lines. And while a proposed minimum-wage hike did not survive the negotiations, Pennsylvania progressives vow the "fight for $15" will continue, The Inquirer reports. 

MASK ON: Some statewide COVID-19 rules have already been lifted or eased, but Pennsylvania's mask mandate isn't going anywhere yet, according to the York Daily Record. The paper reports Gov. Tom Wolf has no plans to follow the lead of conservative counterparts who have already repealed mask rules despite federal warnings to the contrary. LancasterOnline says Wolf isn't planning to tighten rules for bars and restaurants this St. Patrick's Day either

LONGSHOT: Gov. Tom Wolf wants to invest $3 billion in revenue from a proposed severance tax on natural gas drilling to boost workforce development and Pennsylvania's pandemic-ravaged economy over the next 10 years. There is one big hitch: While Wolf's perennial severance tax proposals have gained public support, necessary legislative backing remains much harder to come by, as WHYY reports.

IN MEMORIAM: David Newhouse, who led The Patriot-News and PennLive to a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal 10 years ago, died Thursday from complications of leukemia. He was 65. A member of a powerful New York publishing family, Newhouse presided over the Patriot-News at a time of profound change for the industry and lasting accolades for the outlet, PennLive reports. 

'ROUGH TREATMENT': Last week's early morning raids at the homes of embattled Philly labor leader Johnny “Doc” Dougherty and his nephew are raising familiar questions about law enforcement tactics and the proportional use of force, Billy Penn reports. “[Dougherty's nephew], his wife and their two terrified young children were home and up,” a Local 98 union rep told the outlet. “The kids had automatic weapons pointed at them.”

HERD MENTALITY: Elk were hunted to extinction in Pennsylvania by 1877. Thirty-six years later, officials imported 50 elk by rail from Yellowstone National Park in an effort to rebuild, or more accurately replace, the state's vanished herd. Fast-forward nearly a century, and elk are big business in the northern tier. Not everyone is a fan, but The Inquirer reports that in a remote and economically isolated region, the animals have given rise to a booming and somewhat pandemic-proof cottage industry.

THE CARS: Famed Pittsburgh environmentalist Rachel Carson is getting her own eco-village, naturally. A plan to honor Carson with a sustainability-heavy housing development, the kind first established in Denmark in the 1990s, is finally moving forward in Richland Township after years of planning. That is unless the neighbors' concerns about parking, traffic, and noise get in the way, TribLive report.

BUG DEAL: High atop the Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania's state bug, the firefly, is honored each year with a festival celebrating its strange, beautiful, and synchronized light-up mating display. PennLive says the event will be back this year with limited hours and limited attendance after going all-virtual in 2020. And the Washington Post says the insects might be totally fine with that.

ROYAL WE: A face-melting, psychedelic rendition of the 2011 British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is streaming now. The seven-minute “moving paintings" video is the work of Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh and the latest installment in the Carnegie Museum of Art's online exhibition series, Pittsburgh City Paper writes. It's surreal, otherworldly, and wild, recalling every wedding you've been to with an open absinthe bar. 

BETTER BAGELS: The Morning Call sampled and rendered verdicts on a bunch of Lehigh Valley bagels — spicy ones, herby ones, shiny ones — with the author's "fussy New Yorker husband" serving as an expert witness. If you're unsatisfied with local options and want to make your own, a colleague recommends this recipe from King Arthur Baking
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
Y G S B L A U D 

Yesterday's answer: Caterpillar

Congrats to our weekly winner: Jill G.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Craig W., Dixie S., Susan D., Bill C., Bette G., Kim C., Bob R., Dennis M., George S., Irene R., Ron P., Anna H., Paul H., Joel S., Jessica K., Cynthia H., Patricia R., Karen W., Carol D., and Lex M. 
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