Local boards begin lobby for share of proposed tax

LISBON – Hanover Township trustees are leading an effort to lobby the state legislature to ensure areas impacted by oil and gas development receive a share of any proposed tax.

Township trustee John Zehentbauer said this week his board adopted a resolution asking the legislature that at least 1 percent from any increase in the oil and gas severance tax proceeds generated from township wells go directly to them “to develop the infrastructure of the areas where the proceeds were generated …”

Zehentbauer said Hanoverton Village Council and the United Local school board were expected to adopt similar resolutions specific to their needs, and the resolution will also be circulated among other boards of trustees.

Zehentbauer said they were moved to act after reading a Jan. 2 story in the Morning Journal about how the legislation had been introduced to increase the severance tax on oil and gas production by 1 percent, increasing to 2 percent after five years.

What Zehentbauer and other local officials have found troubling is that none of the estimated $1.7 billion generated over 10 years by the tax increase would go to counties and communities impacted by oil and gas development. Instead, it would be used to reduce the state income tax, plug abandoned wells and help oversee and regulate drilling.

“We agree that if there is one (tax), we believe at a minimum that at least 1 percent should go directly to the local communities” where the drilling activity is occurring, he said.

It is these townships, cities and villages that will be affected by the increased truck traffic and other activities that will come from the drilling boom that is expected to only increase in coming years, Zehentbauer said.

“If you don’t take care of this now, in 10 years you’re going to regret it,” he said. “We just want some of the money to be able to deal with it.”

The resolution specifically states that local governments should receive any of the tax revenue directly and it should not go to county commissioners or the state for them to distribute as they see fit. Zehentbauer said commissioners should receive a share, the same as other local governments and even school districts, since county roads will also be impacted.

“This is not meant to be anything disparaging against the county, but if it’s handed down it should be handed down directly to the people who are affected,” Zehentbauer said.

The west-central part of the county is where the majority of drilling activity is currently occurring, particularly in Hanover Township, which is also home to a gas collection and processing plant.

“We just feel a percentage should go directly to the people who are affected … If we don’t protect ourselves, who will?” Zehentbauer said

State Rep. Nick Barborak, D-Lisbon, was at this week’s meeting of the county commissioners, who said they were concerned about the oil and gas tax bill as it was currently written. Barborak agreed some of the money should go to impacted counties, “and not to Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati,” as he fears will happen.

He also shares the same concern as county Engineer Bert Dawson, who said engineers are worried drilling companies will quit paying for road maintenance if the tax is approved and tell local officials to get the money from the state to fix their roads.

Barborak urged commissioners and their counterparts in other eastern Ohio counties to lobby their legislators to amend the bill to ensure some of the money goes to impacted areas.