When members of the Mercer County Commission voted last year to cut funding to the county airport, the controversial decision was rightfully criticized given the great importance of having a strong general aviation facility for the region.

Without a first-class airport, it will be difficult to attract new business and promote economic development and growth in our area. And despite the failures that led to the unfortunate loss of commercial air service in Mercer County back in 2007, a new airport authority board and a new airport manager have been making significant strides in recent months in terms of enhancing and improving the overall airport facilities. That’s why the funding cuts from the county not only hurt, but made little sense in terms of planning for future growth.

It would appear that the commissioners are now apparently willing to reconsider this incorrect decision. A discussion and possible vote on restoring funding to the airport is on the commission’s agenda for its 10 a.m. meeting this morning.

Commission President Mike Vinciguerra said the board had to cut the airport funding in order to finance a mandatory fire alarm system upgrade at the courthouse, as well as a new security system upgrade for the court facilities. He says the state fire marshal would have shut the courthouse down had the fire alarm system not been updated.

But critics questioned why the commissioners didn’t do a better job planning for future and unexpected expenses — such as the fire alarm system upgrade. Yearly budget planning should include provisions for such unexpected emergencies and expenditures.

“It is $2,500 a month, which comes out to $30,000 a year,” Vinciguerra said of the airport funds that were cut by the commission. “That would bring them back up to $120,000 a year that the county provides them.”

Although he couldn’t predict how the commission would vote today, Vinciguerra correctly notes that the airport is important to the future of Mercer County. He says the restoration of county funds could help with grant funding applications the authority is seeking from the Shott Foundation and other funding agencies for proposed upgrades and repairs to hangers at the airport.

A number of critical and welcomed upgrades have already been completed at the airport, including recent renovations to the restroom facilities, airport lounge and pilots lounge.

“It is really important because that (the airport) is the first place — when a company comes in, and they normally fly in — that is the first place they will see,” Vinciguerra said. “That’s a first impression for people coming into Mercer County.”

We agree. And we believe it is critical for the commissioners to vote this morning to restore these funds. The board should be doing everything in its power to ensure that we have a first-class general aviation facility for Mercer County. Cutting funding to the airport is not the answer. And, with hope, the commission can do a better budgeting job in the future when it comes to planning for unexpected expenditures.

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