COAL TOWNSHIP - Township commissioners, as expected, adopted a 2013 general fund budget with a 2-mill tax hike during a special meeting Thursday.

The unexpected was talk among commissioners, albeit brief, about their intent to adopt an ordinance seeking a 25 percent share of revenue from coal land owners who sell access permits to their land.

Such permits are sought by all-terrain vehicle riders. A share of revenue from the sale of permits would be used to offset costs of emergency services needed when accidents occur on privately owned coal company land, commissioners said.

Coal Township Commissioners voted 4-0 to advertise Ordinance 484, The Alternate Land Use Ordinance, with commissioners Craig Fetterman, Jerry Waugh, Gene Welsh and George Zalar in favor. Commissioner Bernie Rumberger was absent.

Coal land is zoned for coal production, and as such it is taxed at a minimum assessment. Using it for recreation or any other purpose is a burden to township taxpayers, the draft ordinance states.

"It is believed that it is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Coal Township that these entities, who use coal production zoned land for other than coal production, pay for the additional costs of police, fire and emergency services that must be made available to those within

the boundaries of Coal Township," the ordinance states.

Vince Rovito, township solicitor, cited Reading Anthracite and Susquehanna Coal as the coal-land owners selling access permits.

He said the proposal is unique and not based on any existing ordinance in municipalities. It also was crafted with no input from coal land owners.

"They don't talk to us, but they will now," Rovito said after Thursday's meeting.

Access permits are sold on Reading Anthracite's web page for $125 each. It permits access on all designated company-owned land. Some rules and restrictions for land use apply.

If the proposed ordinance were enacted as drafted and complied with, Coal Township would receive $31.25 from each permit sold by Reading Anthracite for 2013.

The proposed ordinance seeks quarterly reports documenting the number of permits granted and to whom, accompanied by a check from the land owner for 25 percent of fees collected that quarter.

Violators could face a summary offense fetching jail or fines up to $1,000 as meted out by a district judge, with all fines paid to Coal Township.

Welsh is a member of the authority board for the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, a developing Northumberland County-owned off-road park in Coal Township and neighboring townships that abuts Reading Anthracite-owned land.

He said the authority board is aware of the ordinance, but the ordinance is not associated with the AOAA.

Fetterman cited noise and taxpayer burden when speaking of his support of the ordinance proposal.

"They're running an ATV park on coal company grounds," he said.

Fetterman said the ordinance would not apply to the AOAA, claiming the county land is being used for recreation as now intended.

Welsh asked that Rovito forward the ordinance proposal to the solicitor for Zerbe Township as well as that township's three-man board of supervisors, whom Welsh said are interested in the proposal.

Township budget

The township general fund budget for 2013 totals $2,758,017, which is $67,101 less than what was budgeted for 2012.

The commissioners used a 2-mill bump in property taxes, estimated to generate an additional $90,000 revenue, accompanied by $109,191 combined from reserves and construction code fees to balance the budget.

Property taxes in Coal Township are now 17 mills, all of which go to the township general fund. The combined total tax levy for property owners is 18 3/4, which includes 1 mill for fire protection, 1/2 mill for the pension fund and 1/4 mill for the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library.

The value of 1 mill represents $1 paid on each $1,000 of assessed property value.

That means Coal Township property owners will pay $18.75 on each $1,000 of the assessed value of their properties.

For example, the owner of a $20,000 property would pay $375 in 2013 compared to $335 in 2012.

The tax increase marks the fourth hike in the past five years, mostly attributed to rising costs for insurance and heating fuel. Prior to that, the township went six years without a tax increase.

Coal Township has tried to soften the burden, not only by using reserve funding to offset the potential total tax hike, but also last year by raising the occupation tax - a tax based on the assessed value of a particular line of work - rather than putting the entire burden on property owners.

A breakdown of expenditures by category is: administration, $254,697; recycling, $110,789; police, $915,759; public safety and fire department, $26,750; code enforcement, $59,207; street department, $467,815; insurance, $165,000; fringe benefits, $679,000; various expenses, $79,000.

It includes salary increases for contracted personnel in the police and street departments, as well as for township Manager Rob Slaby (from $43,920 to $45,457), Code Officer Chris Petrovich (from $38,948 to $40,053), Police Detective Jeff Brennan (from $60,100 to $62,162) and Police Chief William Carpenter (from $76,158 to $77,231).

The recycling costs are offset by an estimated combined revenue of $151,000 in sales of recycled material and grant funding.

It should be noted that the commissioners each earn $3,250, almost to the dollar what their counterparts on Shamokin City Council earn, although the city's mayor earns slightly more.

None of the five Coal Township commissioners opt to take any insurance through the township, which in the past has been noted to save an estimated $100,000.