A divided Board of County Commissioners decided yesterday to pass on the possibility of state-subsidized air service between Westminster and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a proposal that might have attracted businesses to Carroll.
"The dollars just aren't there," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who voted against the proposal with Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "If the airport were making money now, maybe we could look at expanding out, but it just doesn't seem viable right now."
Scheduled air service between Carroll County Regional Airport north of Westminster and BWI would have cost the county at least $60,000 per year.
The county airport operates at a loss. Last year, it cost taxpayers about $83,000.
"Although there could be some economic benefit down the road, my recommendation has to be based upon some immediate benefit to [the county], and I'm not seeing it," said Gary Horst, who oversees the airport. "Frankly, I'm having a hard time recommending we spend $60,000 to get it up and running."
The Maryland Aviation Administration estimates that outlying communities could see a tenfold increase in the economic impact of their regional airports if they offer commuter service to BWI.
After two public meetings and nearly an hour of debate, the commissioners accepted Horst's recommendation. The vote was 2-1.
"I feel we should take the next step in the planning process," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who favored moving forward with the proposal. "It wouldn't cost us anything, and we'd be able to get more details."
Communities that express interest in applying for state funds to establish scheduled air service will go to a state planning meeting this fall, where the aviation administration will determine which outlying areas are capable of supporting the service.
The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce surveyed about 60 companies to measure interest in air service to BWI and received a lukewarm response.
About 30 companies responded, and several said they would use the service from two to 30 times a year.
Several communities, including Cumberland, Hagerstown and Frederick, have expressed interest in establishing regularly scheduled flights to BWI.
The deadline for a municipality to express interest is Monday.
"We'd like to get this service up and running around the first of the year," said Bruce F. Mundie, director of the state's Office of Regional Aviation Assistance.
Legislation signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in May requires the state to give a handful of regional airports financial assistance to start BWI commuter service next year.
The governor set aside about $1 million for the initiative in fiscal 2001, which began July 1.
Funding could increase to $2 million in each of the next two years.