CLEARFIELD – On Tuesday the Clearfield County Commissioners voted, 2-1, to table any decision on splitting the bill for the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport’s 2013 audit with the Jefferson County Commissioners.
Earlier this week, the Clearfield commissioners were notified by the Jefferson County Commissioners that they had paid $8,500 for the airport’s audit. The board asked the Clearfield commissioners to consider splitting the bill.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen, chair, explained the airport officials didn’t have a 2013 audit done due to lack of funds. She said the Jefferson County Commissioners had recently authorized payment of the audit.
Upon notification she explained to the Jefferson County Commissioners that splitting the airport’s audit bill wasn’t in the Clearfield County budget. As a result, she told them it would have to come out of the county’s general fund and needed to be considered at a public meeting.
Both Commissioners Mark B. McCracken and John A. Sobel said the Jefferson County Commissioners should not have “cut the check” and then asked Clearfield County to “chip in.” Both said that the Jefferson County Commissioners should have consulted with the Clearfield commissioners first.
McCracken made a motion to table any decision on splitting the bill for the airport’s 2013 audit with the Jefferson County Commissioners. Sobel seconded the motion.
McCracken also asked that the commissioners request Jefferson County to not make any further expenses in assistance to the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport with expectations of Clearfield County splitting the bill.
Both McCracken and Sobel voted in favor of the motion. Robinson-McMillen cast the nay vote, saying afterward she would have been willing to pay the $4,250 even though she agreed with the comments from the other commissioners.
McCracken said perhaps the county could consider reimbursing Jefferson County for the airport’s 2013 audit later in the year.
When asked, Solicitor Kim Kesner indicated the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport is mandated to have an annual audit done. He said the airport’s other expenses would be considered as discretionary.
During board discussion, Robinson-McMillen indicated that airport officials have been in communication with the commissioners. She said airport officials have requested an additional $65,000 to catch up their accounts for this calendar year, as well as a significant increase in next year’s appropriation from the counties.
According to her, Clearfield County has not granted the funding request from airport officials. She said the commissioners cannot even discuss it until the state has a budget.
She said the county’s first priority must be to make its own payroll and to pay its own providers for the first quarter if the state budget isn’t passed. “This will cost the county more than $500,000. There’s no way we can give anything that’s not in our budget,” said Robinson-McMillen.
McCracken pointed out that this is probably the third time that the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport has been in financial distress during his tenure as commissioner.
McCracken said however, the airport’s financial distress now is probably the worst that it’s ever been. “They’re looking to us for more than double our [normal] appropriation for next year,” he said, adding airport officials currently lack “a reasonable plan” to get out other than “they need more money from the counties.”
Sobel said so far as the airport officials’ request for an increased appropriation starting in 2016, it would likely force the county to raise taxes. “It’s that significant of a request,” he said. “It’s a very serious matter for the Clearfield and Jefferson County Commissioners to deal with this fall.”
Robinson-McMillen then provided a detailed breakdown of the request from officials at the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport. She said they were requesting an additional $65,000 this calendar year on top of its $80,000 appropriation.
She said the counties originally appropriated $60,000 annually. However, sometime between 2003 and 2007, she said airport officials had asked for a supplemental $40,000 from each county due to financial difficulties.
According to her, each county agreed to contribute a $40,000 supplement to the airport. In the Clearfield County budget, she said the commissioners had kept it broken into a $60,000 appropriation and a $40,000 supplement.
Two years ago, Robinson-McMillen said they contacted airport officials and explained they wanted to cut the supplement by $5,000 annually until their total appropriation was back to just $60,000.
She said this year the county’s appropriation to the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport was $80,000. In the 2016 budget, she said it would be $75,000 if the county proceeds with its annual cut. However, she said airport officials have now requested an appropriation of $154,000 from next year on from both Clearfield and Jefferson counties.
Sobel said airport officials have indicated in public meetings that the number of people flying out of DuBois has dropped significantly. “This has been the trend for a number of years,” he said. “It’s being used less and less, and something needs to be addressed.”
McCracken said the commissioners wanted to stress that airport officials must take a look at its current business model. He said the commissioners need to work with airport officials and the Jefferson County Commissioners to determine if the airport will remain full service or something on a smaller scale.
Both McCracken and Sobel stressed that neither the Clearfield nor the Jefferson County Commissioners are suggesting that the airport should shut down. Both said they wanted airport officials to consider reconfiguring their services.
When asked after the commissioners’ meeting, Robinson-McMillen said that if the county didn’t grant the funding request from airport officials, the Clearfield-Jefferson Airport would experience a deficit. She said she’s suggested to airport officials establishing a “Friends of the Airport” to solicit membership from larger corporations who may want to utilize the airport.