FALLS CREEK — The Clearfield-Jefferson Counties Regional Airport Authority is looking to cut costs in its 2017 spending plan after the airport allocation from Clearfield County fell short of the requested amount.
Airport manager Robert W. Shaffer provided the response from the authority’s treasurer, Jay Chamberlin, about how the finances would be addressed.
Chamberlin stated, “As we have discussed before, we will try do our best to work with the funds available. We will be unable to fill a necessary employee position and look for ways to cut other expenses. Unfortunately our accounts payable will likely increase.”
According to Shaffer, the “necessary employee position” mentioned by Chamberlin is in the maintenance department.
“We are under staffed in the maintenance department and had hoped to be able to replace the position we have gone without for the past several years,” Shaffer explained.
Recently, the Clearfield-Jefferson Counties Regional Airport Authority adopted its own budget.
Shaffer said that the authority budgeted $155,000 from Jefferson and Clearfield counties each in the spending plan, which was the amount requested.
In its 2017 budget, Jefferson County has agreed to contribute $170,000 to the airport next year while Clearfield County is allocating $60,000 in its budget.
The Clearfield County allotment is $95,000 less than what the airport budgeted.
With Jefferson County’s allotting more than the $155,000, it brings the difference down to $80,000 less than what was budgeted by the airport authority.
The funding situation involving the counties is not a new issue for the airport.
As previously reported in a Courier Express series examining the counties’ support for the airport, the airport authority, in 2004, requested an additional subsidy, from $60,000 annually to $100,000, from each of the counties. Both Clearfield and Jefferson agreed to provide the additional funding with the understanding that it was temporary.
The thinking was that the extra money would keep the airport going until the development of its commerce park lots and access road from Interstate 80 were complete.
The authority board believed this two-pronged plan would spur commercial interest in the airport and boost regular ridership, equating to a payday that would bridge its financial cracks.
Unfortunately, the windfall never materialized, leaving the authority to continue to lean financially on the two counties for more than a decade.
In mid-2015, the airport approached both counties asking for a total of $155,000 in annual subsidies from each.
While Jefferson County has been increasing its allocation, as evidenced by the most recent budgetary figures, Clearfield County gave a flat out “no” and is continuing along a timeline to eliminate the temporary subsidy altogether.
For the Courier Express’s previously published series, both the Clearfield County commissioners and the Jefferson County Commissioners talked with the newspaper about their contributions and the reasoning behind it.
“Back then (in 2004), it seemed like a viable argument presented to us and we thought it was the right thing to do,” Commissioner Mark McCracken, who was on the board then, was quoted as saying.
“There’s a desperate desire to keep the airport as it always has been,” Commissioner John Sobel was quoted as saying. “No one is arguing that the airport should fold up, we just think it should change its business model to meet the changing climate.”
The Clearfield County officials also opined that the airport is unwilling to hear their suggestions, which include considering business memberships, capital campaigns, subsidies from surrounding counties with high ridership, and ways to reduce fares.
“Their solution to us every time is write a check,” McCracken said at the time. “County tax dollars are very limited and future financial problems at the DuBois Regional Airport will never be solved with more county subsidy.”
The Clearfield County commissioners have paid the airport more than $1 million in the last 12 years, and to meet the airport’s then-most recent financial request would have meant a 1/2 mill tax increase for Clearfield County’s taxpayers.
“Despite what you hear, we support the airport,” Sobel was quoted as saying. “But it’s wrong to raise taxes on citizens when they can’t afford health insurance and groceries.”
The three Clearfield County commissioners affirmed they won’t reconsider a subsidy increase until they see forward movement and change at the airport.
Jefferson County Commissioner Jeff Pisarcik, was quoted as saying “we all know that there isn’t an airport successful in the country that is not helped out by the county.” He was speaking generally about how crucial county support is for airports.
He added that the commissioners have been “pretty involved” with the airport over the last 12 years.
“We know that the airport is very vital to this area, and not just Jefferson County and Clearfield County, but the region as a whole,” Pisarcik said.
“And it offers a lot more than what people think. We felt that we had to do everything in our power to have it here.”
Saying the impact of the airport that the commissioners see is “a lot more than what anybody knows,” Pisarcik cited a PennDOT study done in 2010, titled “The Economic Impact of Aviation in Pennsylvania,” which boasts $28.6 million as the total economic benefits the region owes to the airport.
According to Rich Kirkpatrick, communications director the PennDOT press office, the $28.6 million finding in the study is the impact for a single year.
“There’s a lot of manufacturers that use the airport to ship out their products, that’s just not Jefferson (County) and Clearfield County, that’s around the region,” Pisarcik said.
Jefferson County Commissioner John “Jack” Matson also previously expressed his support for the airport. “For me, it’s a part of the toolkit that you need to attract businesses to the region,” he said. “Without that, there are fewer companies that would be willing to relocate here or build a factory here.”
“All the close counties here...definitely benefit from this, and if we’re going to have an airport, then everybody has to step up and come through with what it takes to keep this airport going,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Herbert L. Bullers Jr. “This has to be figured out how to keep this airport, keep it running, and that’s what Jefferson County has definitely stepped up to do.”