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Reading Regional Airport Authority resignations clear way for Berks takeover

All but one of the seven members of the Reading Regional Airport Authority board resigned during a special meeting Thursday night, a move made to pave the way for a Berks County takeover of the Bern Township airfield.

The mass resignation is the latest development in the effort to shift control of the airport. The authority board has expressed interest in having the county take over operations of the facility as far back as spring 2021, citing mounting financial stress as the authority struggles to make payments on debt that dates back two decades.

A prior airport board in 2000 borrowed $8 million to renovate the passenger terminal at the airport.

Right around then, regional and national airlines ended their commercial passenger service to Reading. Before that happened, local residents could park at the airport, catch a small passenger plane to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh and fly most anywhere in the world.

The debt was a big hit to the authority’s bottom line.

The authority has paid down more than half of the $8 million and in recent years has refinanced the debt to keep monthly payments manageable. The authority currently owes about $2 million.

That amount is still a hefty sum that has created a difficult situation for the authority. Which is why in spring 2021 the authority issued a letter to the county commissioners asking them to consider dissolving the entity in favor of operating the airport as a department of the county.

Interim step

The county has been investigating the matter.

In January, the commissioners agreed to cover the cost of a strategic plan being crafted by a York County firm that specializes in aviation development to give the authority and the county a blueprint for the areas they should focus on and what growth would look like in the decades to come.

Then in March the board took the next step in its investigation by hiring the law firm Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys to research the proposal of replacing the authority with a department, saying the firm has extensive knowledge of authority law.

The result of the investigation was a recommendation that instead of dissolving the authority, the authority members all resign and be replaced by the county commissioners and other county employees.

Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, who attended the meeting Thursday, said the commissioners agreed collectively this was the best next step forward. He said dissolving the authority would take longer than they had previously thought.

“So we thought the best interim step is to ask for the resignations of the authority members and approve new appointments to the authority that reflect the county government,” he said. “From there we will figure out if we want to continue as an authority.”

Barnhardt said that at this point he believes maintaining an authority provides more benefits to the county rather than operating the airport as a department. But, he added, there are still some discussions to be had on what makes the most sense.

Barnhardt said the commissioners are discussing what the new authority will look like. He said they may decide to cut the number of members down from seven to five, and who might fill those positions in addition to the commissioners has not been finalized.

But he said there are no plans to invite any of the old members back.

“This is no disrespect to the authority,” he said. “They are a volunteer board that has done their best and have done a great job. But we feel as though on a daily basis we can call more meetings and be more proactive.”

Changing focus

Barnhardt said the county is committed to improving the situation at the airport.

“We really want to change the focus of the airport,” he said. “We want to raise the opportunity for development, for flights, for fuel sales, for keeping the control tower. There’s a lot of intricate things taking place here that we feel as though by the county stepping in to assume leadership we can make a lot of positive improvements.”

As part of that commitment to improvements, the commissioners sent a letter to the authority on Thursday reaffirming the intent of the commissioners to form a Reading Regional Airport Advisory Committee. That committee would be composed of members representing each tenant at the airport and will meet with the authority and the management team on a monthly basis.

Barnhardt said he believes having an advisory committee will enhance the value of the airport by meeting with the tenants on a regular basis to better understand the concerns and needs of those who use the airfield.

The commissioners approached the authority with the resignation plan at an authority meeting Tuesday, assuring the members that asking for their resignation was not a slight on their work but rather a necessary step in moving forward with a county takeover of the airport.

That led to the special meeting Thursday, where Chairman Michael Setley, Vice Chairman Craig Lutz, and members Pamela Shupp, Andrew Muller, Raymond Blydenburgh, Betsy Carlisle all tendered their resignations.

Randy Heck was the only member who did not resign Thursday, saying that he would prefer to serve out the remainder of his term that is set to expire in about three months. However, after speaking with Barnhardt following the meeting and gaining more insight into the request he agreed he would also tender his resignation.

Lutz said he believes the airport will be in good hands with the county.

“This is going to be good for the airport,” he said. “It’s something that should have happened a long time ago because they have the ability to meet more often and devote more time to making the airport what it should be.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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