Commissioners make correct decision to preserve airport

The Lycoming County Commissioners correctly decided last week to approve $2 million in funding for the williamsport Regional Airport terminal project. The funding was essential for the modernization of air services out of the airport. Without that modernization – set to start in March – the county might as well get out of the air services business. As it stands now, the local airport can barely compete with other regional airports. With modernized services, the local airport may be able to snag a second carrier, improving choice and pricing for local air travelers, both individuals and businesses. The tougher decision still remains for the commissioners: Where will the $2 million come from? Natural gas drilling impact fees have been the previously designated source for the funds. But it’s worth pointing out that taking $2 million out of that fund next year to pay for the airport work would limit use of impact fees for a host of other worthy causes in smaller municipalities throughout the region. In most of those cases, the impact fees remain one of the few discretionary sources of income. On the other hand, should the county choose to take out a loan to pay for the work, it would add an annual cost that the county can ill afford, with projections of a $4 million deficit at the end of 2017. It’s worth noting that stretching the loan over 10 years at a 1.75 fixed interest rate would keep the loan repayment at a reasonable amount. In a perfect world, the county would loan the money, freeing up the impact fees for dozens of uses throughout Lycoming County, and proceed now with spending cuts over the next 18 months that could significantly cut into the projected deficit at the end of 2017. The commissioners at least started by correctly deciding to make the airport an asset rather than an archaic embarrassment.

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