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Pennsylvania Municipal Leaders Discuss Economy, Shale in Pittsburgh

The Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities is convening in Pittsburgh this week for discussions of pension problems, economic strategies, and Marcellus Shale natural gas development.

Lock Haven mayor and PLCM President Rick Vilello said municipal leaders plan to lobby the state legislature to reform Act 111 of 1968, which governs municipalities' contract negotiations with police and firefighter unions.

"One, we're looking at picking from a pool [of] more arbitrators. Right now, we pick from a pool of three arbitrators. We're looking to go to seven," said Vilello. "We're looking at a municipality's ability to pay being taken into consideration for any awards. We're looking at taking post-retirement healthcare out of collective bargaining."

Pennsylvania municipalities are also beginning to see the first revenues from the state's new Marcellus Shale impact fee. A new state law levies a fee on each hydraulically fractured gas well, giving part of the revenue to the municipality where the well is located.

As Lock Haven's mayor, Vilello said his city's yearly impact fee revenue of $64,000 won't be enough to cover the industry's wear and tear on local roadways.

"Not near enough," said Vilello, "but hopefully we can do other things, working with the companies and make investments in roads and other things, because Harrisburg is staying pretty much hands-off. So, maybe we can get the gas companies to put in more infrastructure and do some things that would benefit the community."

It's a challenging time for local governments, according to PLCM Director of Development John Brenner.

"We're here to do a little bit of crying on each other's shoulders, to commiserate about those challenges," said Brenner. "Frankly, a lot of them are fiscal. We're going to be talking about how to continue to stretch local tax dollars [and] do everything we can to avoid tax increases."

The conference started on Tuesday with municipal officials building a playground in Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side, with help from the group KaBOOM, ServePGH, and others.

The local government leaders will be convening at the Omni William Penn Hotel through Friday.