Air base's uncertain future should guide local officials

Mahoning County Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock has suggested that she and her two colleagues meet with county Auditor George Tablack to hear his financial forecast for the next two years.
It's a suggestion that's both timely and necessary. Timely because Mahoning County is facing a major decision with regard to funding for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and Tablack has stated unequivocally that the commissioners cannot walk away from that responsibility.
But given the dire fiscal condition of county government, Tablack's intimate knowledge of the budget and his expertise in government financing should prove invaluable.
Last week, commissioners Edward Reese and David Ludt deadlocked over the proposal to allocate $185,000 to the Western Reserve Port Authority. Reese strongly supports such funding, while Ludt remains firmly opposed to Mahoning County dollars going to the airport, which is in Trumbull County. Sherlock, who missed last week's meeting of the commissioners, has supported the airport in the past but isn't sure the county can afford such a nonmandated service today.
Can't have one without the other
Reese is absolutely right in contending that the future of the Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township is inextricably tied to the airport.
Without continued funding from Trumbull and Mahoning counties -- Trumbull commissioners recently awarded $185,000 for the facility -- the airport will be hard pressed to remain open. If it is forced to close, the runways and other facilities utilized by the Air Reserve Station would not be available. And that, in turn, could have a major impact on this significant economic engine.
The installation, which is home to the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift Wing, pumps more than $80 million into the economy and has more than 2,000 full- and part-time Air Force reservists, civilians and contractors assigned to it. More than 573 off-base jobs were created last year as a result of the station's presence in the Mahoning Valley.
In 2005, however, Congress will conduct a major review of all military installations as part of the operational restructuring of the Pentagon. There is no doubt that bases will be closed.
As we have argued on several occasions in recent months, the failure to keep the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport open would be viewed by decision-makers in Washington as a lack of commitment on the part of the Valley to support the air base.
Another set of eyes
On the other hand, we agree with Sherlock that Tablack needs to be involved in the discussion about the financial future of Mahoning County.
He has long complained about being ignored and has charged that the lack of long-range budgetary planning has contributed to county government's fiscal upheaval.
Tablack says he supports funding the operation of the airport, at least for the foreseeable future. He should be willing to show the commissioners how it can be done while allocating money for services that are mandated by the state and federal governments.
If he does present a workable plan, Reese, Sherlock and Ludt should embrace it.
If Ludt is looking for a reason to change his position, we would remind him of the words of Brig. Gen. Michael F. Gjede, commander of the 910th with regard to the future of the Air Reserve Station: "The thing I fear most right now is the [counties'] airport funding issue. I'd like to see a funding commitment for the airport past 2005."
As for the airport, recent overseers have not been able to find a niche for it in the aviation market. That doesn't mean there isn't a niche. Those who can't see potential at the airport aren't looking beyond the horizon.