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October 30, 2012

Shale Boom, Part 3: Drilling work generates tourism, conservation dollars

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County’s conservation district and tourist promotion agency both stand to receive financial boosts from Marcellus Shale revenues.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recently released a report of the allotments of impact fees to each county and municipality in the state.

But in addition to those previously reported amounts, the county conservation district also will receive money from the funds coming the county’s way, Commissioner Dan Vogler said.

Commissioner Bob Del Signore said the commissioners also have acknowledged an additional $40,000 in revenues from the county’s hotel occupancy tax for tourist promotion.

That injection is due to the number of Marcellus-related workers and other visitors staying in local motels.

INFLUX OF WORKERS

The Marcellus influx started with people doing deed searches in the courthouse. They stayed for weeks at a time, working in the county register and recorder’s office. Now that actual drilling has begun, more people are migrating into the county to take up temporary residency for other shale-related work.

The increase in occupancy tax revenues “is attributed to the increase of activity at the Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn and all the locations in the county housing people from the oil companies and land companies,” Del Signore said.

“The increase is quite substantial to this point and I think it’s going to go up more for the 2012-13 years.”

Joann McBride, executive director of the Lawrence County Tourist Promotion Agency, explained the agency’s funding from the occupancy tax has been around $45,000 to $50,000 a year.

For fiscal year 2011-12, that amount doubled, she said, noting the funds go through the county and are funneled to her agency.

The occupancy tax ordinance requires anyone staying in a motel room in the county to pay a 3 percent tax, in addition to the 6 percent sales tax. That 3 percent tax goes to tourism.

The ordinance allows the taxation on hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, cabins and cottages.

But while occupancy tax money is growing, tourism’s state grant funding has dwindled from its original $36,000 a few years ago to $400 last fiscal year and to zero this year, McBride pointed out.

“The room tax is compensating for the fact that we no longer get a state grant.”

The occupancy funds can be used to promote the county, for example, helping with a statewide student council convention coming to town. It is being sponsored by the Laurel and Union school districts.

Tourism gave them literature and a gift basket and it bought Fireworks Capital of America promotional items for their bags, McBride said.

The tourism board of directors is meeting to discuss how to use the additional occupancy funds, “because we don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said. “Our board is very conscious that we need to have a plan for that money.

“Basically it will allow us to do more promotion and make it more competitive with the counties around us.”

McBride encourages locals to treat shale-related workers cordially.

“These people coming in from different parts of the country will want to see our attractions and eat in our restaurants,” she said. “We’re more or less responsible for how they feel about this community by how we treat them.”

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