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County releases part of budget for airport

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A decision by Blair County commissioners to release a portion of the $65,000 budgeted this year for the Altoona-Blair County Airport is another example of the county’s lack of support for the facility, airport leaders said this week.

Commissioners voted Thursday to provide the airport with $28,000 to $29,000 of general fund money to help cover the cost of a new fire alarm system and a credit card reader for its fueling station.

That vote means the county retains the rest of the allocation — about $35,000 to $36,000.

It’s another example of the county’s longtime lack of support for a valuable county asset, authority members Herb Bolger, Seth Smith and Gary Orner said during the authority’s monthly meeting

While commissioners in some Pennsylvania counties have a history of providing annual financial support to their local airports, Bolger said that hasn’t been the philosophy of Blair County’s current or past commissioners.

Orner said, “The airport is like their orphan that they kicked out with the bath water.”

Smith said, “We’ve taken steps to see that this facility will remain viable.”

He mentioned the construction of new hangars for rental aircraft, a profitable on-site restaurant, the retention of a state police helicopter as a tenant and the introduction of a new carrier for daily passenger flights.

“We’ve made some enormous strides over the last four years,” Smith said.

Smith also offered a financial report during the authority’s meeting indicating that the airport is running close to a break-even operation.

“That’s huge,” Smith said.

Prior reports have often referenced cash flow concerns.

When commissioners met Tuesday, they quizzed airport Manager Tracy Plessinger about the authority’s intended use of the $65,000.

When the commissioners built the 2021 budget, the authority advised that it anticipated needing $65,000 to cover a 5 percent obligation toward completion of a runway improvement project. At that time, the authority didn’t have $65,000 to secure the $1.3 million project.

Because the federal government subsequently covered 100 percent of the runway improvement project, Plessinger advised commissioners of other maintenance projects or capital improvements that the $65,000 allocation could cover.

When meeting Tuesday,the idea of contributing the remaining money to a capital reserve fund failed to win support from commissioners.

“I don’t have any interest in building your reserve and adding to our deficit,” Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb said Tuesday.

During Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Amy Webster, the liaison to the airport authority, she said the authority has $151,000 in a fund that can be used for repairs and unexpected expenses.

“But we must be cognizant that the airport authority has many future projects planned that will be of considerable expense,” Webster added.

One of those projects, addressing a stormwater drainage problem on the airport’s access road, will cost the county $122,500, based on current estimates.

Commissioner Laura Burke spoke Thursday in favor of allocating the budgeted $65,000 to the airport, an idea that didn’t draw a supportive second vote.

Erb pointed out that the county pays almost $68,000 in rent annually to the airport for office and storage space used by Magisterial District Judge Andrew Blattenberger and the Penn State Agricultural Extension agency.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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