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Schuylkill County News

Schuylkill Airport Authority Wants $146K and Some Commissioners Want to Know Why

Barron went radio silent on this discussion.

Schuylkill County Airport Authority appears to be out of money once again. And it’s asking the County Commissioners to put more than $146,000 into its coffers.

But some of the Commissioners at last week’s public work session meeting want to know why.

The subject of the increased allocation to the Airport Authority came up last week in a rather sneaky way, for anyone that looks at the public Agenda for each meeting. If you read it, you’d see that the Agenda makes zero mention of the Airport Authority, just the money it’s requesting.

Here’s a look at the Agenda, as it was presented to the public:

See? No mention of the Airport Authority whatsoever.

County Administrator Gary Bender, not surprisingly, didn’t mention the Airport Authority by name when reading off the budget adjustment request. But it was clear the Commissioners knew what the $146,432 was for and that opened up a line of questions from 2 of the 3 Commissioners.

What Bender did say, trying to pad a hard landing for this request, was that the money was to come from Schuylkill County’s mysterious Contingency Fund and that it had been budgeted during the 2023 budget negotiations just waiting for the request for it.

But that didn’t stop Commissioners George Halcovage and Gary Hess asking about it anyway.

“I have questions about the airport,” Halcovage said. “Ask Mr. (Bill) Willard (the Airport manager) and maybe their financial person to come to the meeting next week to have a discussion on where they’re at financially.”

Halcovage added, “I’m just trying to figure out why we’re putting money into the airport.”

Hess requested that someone besides just the employee attend this Wednesday’s meeting to talk about the request. He said, “If you’re going to request that, I’d ask that the chairman of the Authority or someone from the Authority to be here, too, not just to put it all on the employee up there, Mr. Willard … to explain the reason.”

Bender did not respond to the request and on this Wednesday’s Agenda, there is no indication anyone from the Airport Authority will be in attendance, per the Commissoners’ request.

Commissioner Barron Hetherington remained radio silent during that particular discussion. After all, it wouldn’t be polite to start rattling the cages of campaign donors that soon after a successful election bid.

A vote on this budget adjustment request is expected at Wednesday’s meeting. If the Commissioners ultimately approve it – and you can probably expect them to do so – it’ll be the latest sign that Schuylkill County Airport is not well financially.

This bailout request is only the latest from the Airport Authority over the last 3 years as it’s struggled to stay in the black.

Since the middle of 2020, the Commissioners have approved $183,933 in bailout money for the Airport Authority. Most of that money was to cover loan and loan interest payments that the Airport Authority said it couldn’t make a 2 loans, one to build a new hangar and the other to extend the runway.

That money is in addition to the cost the County incurred on the reconstruction of Airport Rd. While 70% of that $1 million+ project was covered by grant funds, that’s still more than $300,000 from County money put toward the Airport.

Here is a documentation of the money requests that came from the Airport Authority since 2020 and also a breakdown of votes taken on the Airport Rd. Reconstruction Project. You’ll notice that this skepticism of the spending at the airport is rather new and not once in the past did any Commissioner blink when it came to approving these motions:

Airport Authority Bailout Requests

July 8, 2020

Commissioners unanimously approved a budget adjustment in the amount of $44,264 to cover a loan payment the Airport Authority couldn’t afford to make. The $350,000 loan is with Mid-Penn Bank and the money is supposed to be used to cover the cost of a runway extension.

At the time, the Airport reported – through the Commissioners, not directly to the public – that it had lost a tenant in the last year and missed out on revenue expected from January through April 2020.

The Airport Authority said it’d regained a tenant so it was expecting revenue to come in again.

November 18, 2020

Commissioners unanimously approved a request from the Airport Authority to forgive an principal and interest loan payment to the tune of $20,293 on a $400,000 2013 loan to build a new hangar.

The loan payment was due on Nov. 1.

April 28, 2021

The Commissioners unanimously approved forgiving an interest payment of $5,056 that was due on May 1. This interest payment was on the 2013 hangar loan for $400,000 from the County to the Airport Authority.

The Airport Authority requested the interest payment forgiveness and at that meeting, Halcovage said that there were negotiations ongoing with the authority so that it might soon be able to bring in new revenue. He didn’t specify what those were at the time.

Hetherington said there was a long-term plan for the Airport Authority to develop a “business area” at the property so that it might be self-sustaining. Later in 2021, the Airport received a $159,000 grant toward developing that business park there but nothing has been mentioned about that since.

May 5, 2021

The Commissioners voted 2-0 (with Halcovage absent) to approve a budget adjustment in the amount of $50,000 to “cover additional allocation” to the Airport Authority.

July 21, 2021

The Commissioners voted 2-0 (Hetherington was absent) to approve a budget adjustment of $44,264 to cover another loan payment to Mid-Penn Bank. That loan was for $350,000 for a runway extension.

Like the year prior, the Airport Authority informed the Commissioners it didn’t have the funds to cover the loan payment.

Nov. 4, 2021

The Commissioners once again approved forgiving the principal and interest payments ($20,056) on the $400,000 loan it granted the Airport Authority in 2013 to build a new hangar at the airport.

The loan payment was due to the County on Nov. 1.

Airport Rd. Reconstruction Votes

March 18, 2020

The Commissioners voted 2-0 (Hetherington hadn’t been installed yet following the passing of Frank Staudenmeier earlier that year) to enter into an $80,200 agreement with Alfred Benesch and Co. for the paving design and Park & Ride at the airport.

The project, overall, was being funded partly ($674,720 worth) by a Multimodal Transportation Fund grant and the rest with Liquid Fuels money given by the state government.

May 27, 2020

The Commissioners unanimously approved the Liquid Fuels project and “encumber $100,000” for the Airport Rd. Reclamation Project. At that meeting, it was disclosed that the project would cost a total of $965,000, and 70% of it coming from that MTF grant.

Dec. 23, 2000

The Commissioners unanimously approved 2 motions related to the Airport Rd. Reconstruction Project.

The first was to extend the contract with Alfred Benesch & Co. for “engineering services” until Oct. 1, 2021. The contract was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

In another motion, the Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to “encumber” another $190,280 on the project.

June 23, 2021

The Commissioners unanimously approved advertising for bids for the reconstruction of Airport Rd. The project included roadway reconstruction, guiderail replacement, line painting, and minor drainage improvements.

July 14, 2021

Bids received on the Airport Rd. Reclamation Project were opened and announced. The County received 5 bids for the project from the following companies:

  • Lehigh Asphalt Paving & Construction
  • New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc.
  • CMS-Construction Masters Services LLC
  • H&K Group Inc.
  • JVI Group Inc.

The County said a decision on the bids received would be made at a later date.

July 21, 2021

County Administrator Gary Bender recommended the Commissioners award the bid for the Airport Rd. Reconstruction Project to Lehigh Asphalt Paving & Construction for $1.074 million.

The Commissioners voted 2-0 (Hetherington was absent) to award the project to that company.

Sept. 15, 2021

The Commissioners unanimously approved a change to the order of the Airport Rd. Reconstruction Project for $76,576.93 for more work to be done on it. That included curb repair and replacement, more base repair, Americans with Disabilities Act improvements and signage, lighting improvements, sign replacement, drainage structure repairs, and upgrades and cleaning.

Oct. 13, 2021

The Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to amend the agreement with Alfred Benesch & Co. for more engineering services related to a design change at the parking lot. The increase was for $5,600 and brought the total cost of that contract to $95,800.

Nov. 10, 2021

The Commissioners approved a second change to the bid from Lehigh Asphalt & Paving. This change was for $23,060 for longer guiderail posts and delineators on the Airport Rd. Reconstruction Project.

The County said these changes on the guiderails were necessary due to the elevation of the new roadway and the delineators were for safety purposes, especially in areas prone to fog.

Dec. 1, 2021

The Commissioners approved again extending the contract with Alfred Benesch & Co. (at no additional cost) from Oct. 13 until the end of 2021.

Jan. 12, 2022

Once again, the Commissioners unanimously approved another extension on the Alfred Benesch & Co. contract until Jan. 31, 2022. The reason given for extending the contract was due to the airport sign being installed and a review of the final invoice of the contract.

The Commissioners also approved extending the contract with Lehigh Asphalt & Paving until Jan. 31, 2022. The reason for extending this contract, they said, was due to waiting for the airport parking lot sign to be completed.

Feb. 9, 2022

The Commissioners approved 2 more changes to the order with Lehigh Asphalt & Paving. Those changes were valued at $32,943.61 due to “actual quantities placed in the field vs. the bid quantities.”

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