Appalachian Basin

Sanford Struggles Without Natural Gas and With the Natural Gas Opposition

The Town of Sanford has only a handful of  people against natural gas, and these individuals attend every meeting, offering the same arguments at every turn. It’s as if doing the same thing yet again is going to change the results.  This week’s meeting was no exception.

After years of hearing the same arguments from the same small but vocal minority of citizens at every meeting, taking time away from adults trying to discuss relevant matters, the Town Board of Sanford resolved to limit the discussion of natural gas matters during the public comment period at its meetings.  The purpose was to ensure public comment periods weren’t turned into repeated circuses at every meeting, drowning out other discussion.  Residents were informed the board still welcomed written correspondence on the subject of natural gas, so long as the information was new and pertinent.

The natural gas opposition, of course, wasn’t very pleased with this decision and fought it, winning by default a reversal of policy that allowed them to pick up where they left off.  This past week they were back at it, trying to impose their opinions and world view on everyone else.

Sanford’s decision, in part, came from the town board’s desire to hold off on decisions relevant to natural gas until the Department of Environmental Conservation completes the SGEIS process and Governor Cuomo effectively lifts the natural gas moratorium for New York State.  They didn’t feel anything was getting accomplished by having activists reiterate misinformation every month, and thus planned to readdress the matter when the state begins actually permitting new natural gas wells.

The antis were furious, of course, despite still being welcome and encouraged to talk with the board outside of meetings or submit written comments.  In response, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy filed a bullying lawsuit against the town.  They were aided by similar bullying efforts from the New York State Attorney General, who has close connections with the special interests fighting development of the clean-burning natural gas that heats most New York homes.  The opposition obviously likes to pick and choose what constitute “rights,” having no issue with imposing bans on individual property rights, but taking great offense when they feel an action impedes their own right to disrupt community meetings.

The town board decided, as a result of this lawsuit, to reverse policy, refusing to waste taxpayer money fighting a frivolous lawsuit that would have only burdened the majority of citizens who want natural gas development and don’t spend their time screaming in public.  It was, in other words, more cost-effective to listen to the nonsense than defend what was, in reality, a perfectly legal and defensible policy.

This wasn’t the biggest news from the meeting, however: The natural gas issue was actually turned on its head.  The anti-fracking activists were contrasted by a real world discussion that followed. During the regular part of the meeting, the Superintendent of the Deposit School district came in to discuss their budget proposal.  New York State perversely classifies Deposit as a “rich” school.  Clearly, the bureaucrats in state government don’t know the Deposit area very well, and this is creating enormous economic problems.  Being classified as rich is a sure ticket, under New York policy, to becoming poor.

DepositSchoolDistrictCriteria used to distribute state education aid bizarrely suggests the Deposit Central School District is the second richest in Broome County (after the Vestal School District).  This means their state aid has been cut substantially.  The school district needs to make up the lost funds without imposing larger than a two percent tax increase due to the New York State tax cap on school districts.  The school is proposing a 1.89 percent tax increase, and to keep it this low they have to tap into their reserve funds because the new taxes will only yield $75,000. This spurred some discussion over the revenue potential the district would have if natural gas development were allowed in New York.

If New York State would allow natural gas development, Deposit would not even need to dip into their savings to keep the tax rate lower.  The Ad Valorem Tax would help the school substantially.  Another point brought up by a landowner was the amount of money the town had lost in land that couldn’t be leased, because Governor Cuomo has everything on hold.  Through some quick math, it was apparent about 44 percent of the acreage in Deposit/Sanford was leased.  If Governor Cuomo had acted responsibly to lift the effective moratorium, the town would have seen many millions of dollars in increased wealth that would have given it the ability to collect much greater taxes outside the two percent cap.

Check out these numbers comparing what is in Pennsylvania with what might be in Deposit’s case:

“Between 2007 and 2011, per capita income rose by 19 percent in Pennsylvania counties with more than 200 wells, by 14 percent in counties with between 20 and 200 wells, and by 12 percent in counties with fewer than 20 wells.

“In counties with no fracked wells, income went up only by 8 percent. It is important to note, too, that counties with the lowest per-capita incomes experienced the most rapid growth.

“Employment growth in Pennsylvania counties, measured as the percentage change in jobs from 2007 to 2011, tells a similar story. Counties with more than 200 wells added jobs at an average rate of 8 percent.

“None of the six counties with more than 200 unconventional wells failed to add jobs in the 2007-2011 period, despite the economic turmoil that gripped the rest of the state, and the nation, during this period.

“Pennsylvania’s counties are narrowing the economic growth rate gap that existed between them and New York’s counties, and this is most pronounced in counties where many fracked wells have been drilled.

“Income of residents in the 28 New York counties above the Marcellus Shale has the potential to expand by 15 percent or more over the next four years if the state’s moratorium is lifted.

“A New York county that permited the drilling of a mere 20 wells could, in a four-year period, see per-capita income rise 3 percent more than it would have if no wells had been drilled.” (Washington Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.)

Other landowners spoke and one poignantly asked if there was any way they could figure out a way to get Cuomo to move forward with natural gas development now.  The board seems to be in the same boat, waiting on all the answers, while everything is at a standstill.

Our friend Sandra Davis also spoke.  She told the board she has two boys and a baby on the way and is so disheartened because her husband works in Syracuse.  He leaves each morning by 4 am and doesn’t return until after 6 pm, leaving him virtually no time with the kids before their 7:30 pm bedtime.  Do they move closer to Syracuse, leaving Deposit two less taxpayers and three less children to attend the school district?  Or do they stay in their home and struggle?  This reality is more common than anyone arguing against natural gas development even knows, or cares to admit.  You can watch the whole comment section below.

All in all, the meeting went on rather nicely and not at all in the direction our friends on the other side would have liked it to go.  It was frustrating to see how much the school district is suffering, especially knowing there is a way to fix it through natural gas development leases, royalties, and the Ad Valorem Tax.  The schools could use the funding just as much as the landowners who are facing tough choices of whether to move away and start over again or keep on pushing through the frustration.

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