Thursday, December 08, 2016

Counties' allocations to airport disclosed

FALLS CREEK – Jefferson County has exceeded its requested allocation for the DuBois Regional Airport for 2017 while Clearfield County’s contribution is significantly lower, according to figures from the two counties’ 2017 budgets.

Recently, the Clearfield-Jefferson Counties Regional Airport Authority adopted its own budget.

Airport manager Robert W. Shaffer said that the authority budgeted $155,000 from each county 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.

When contacted Wednesday about how the budget will be handled in light of Clearfield County’s lower allocation, an employee in the airport office said that the matter has been referred to the airport authority’s treasurer, Jay Chamberlin, and a response is being awaited.

The funding situation involving the counties is not a new issue for the airport.

As previously reported in the first installment of 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 boards of commissioners 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, Clearfield County commissioners talked with the newspaper about their contribution 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.

Commissioner John Sobel commented at the time, “But when is it a losing investment, a luxury you can’t afford anymore?”

All three said the airport increases residents’ quality of life and is an asset when bolstering business development and tourism. However, they also cited an indifference to change since it opened in 1960.

“There’s a desperate desire to keep the airport as it always has been,” 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 trio 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 Courier-Express series reported that 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 one-half 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.

Some highlights of the airport authority’s budget include: airline income, including landing fees and ramp fees, $46,088; expenses for maintenance supplies, $100,802; and snow removal expenses, $25,000.

There is also some change in the landing fee.

“The fee used to be $1.90 per thousand pounds of gross take-off weight,” Shaffer stated in an email. “It is now $2 per thousand pounds. This fee was raised with inflation and after doing some research we saw that we had one of the lowest landing fees in the area.”

He explained that a landing fee is a charge that a business/charter aircraft receives when coming into the area for business.

“There is no landing fee charged for small personal aircraft that come in to say, eat at the restaurant,” he said. “The landing fee is charged based on the weight of each individual aircraft. The more it weighs the more they will be charged.”


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