Commissioners budget for airport fueling station

By Kay Stephens

HOLLIDAYSBURG – To keep plans for a fueling station at the Altoona-Blair County Airport moving forward, commissioners agreed Tuesday to budget annually for payments toward a $200,000 loan. But it’s the airport authority, commissioners said, which is taking out the loan and will be making payments.

Commissioners agreed a few weeks ago to support the county-owned airport’s $1.04 million project, which calls for building foundations and installing three aviation fuel tanks to replace tanks that airport leaders have described as old and leaking. The Fourth River Company of Pittsburgh will handle general construction work expected to last through summer.

The airport authority pursued the project after securing a pair of grants and financial support from DeGol Aviation, the airport’s fixed-based operator that will operate the fueling station. The authority pursued a $200,000 loan from M&T Bank to cover the rest of the anticipated expense and secured the loan with the commissioners’ guarantee.

Blair County Solicitor Nathan Karn told commissioners Tuesday that when the paperwork for this project was reviewed by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, it was determined that the county needs to do more.

To guarantee the loan, the state is telling the county that it must budget and appropriate the amount of the loan payment, Karn told commissioners. While the amount is expected to be less than $10,000 in the first year of the loan, it will be much higher in later years, Karn said.

“You don’t have to pay [the loan payments],” Karn said. “But you have to have money available in case of default.”

Commissioners Diane Meling and Ted Beam Jr. objected to the state’s position, and Karn told them that he didn’t like it either. Karn said the county has guaranteed other loans for the airport without the need to budget money. But the state said that if that was the case, it was an oversight because the regulations require budgeting and appropriating, Karn said.

“I have a problem putting this in our budget if we don’t have to pay it,” Beam said.

Meling, who is the commissioner liaison to the airport authority, said the county is not in a position to raise objections because this an important project.

For the fuel farm project to move forward, Karn said the county needed to again advertise and restate its support for the project, then vote soon thereafter so the project gets the state’s OK.

Commissioners agreed and indicated that they will object to the state’s position through the office of state Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona.