On Sept. 8, a debate at Minden’s CVIC Hall informed voters whether they should approve a new Douglas County airport ordinance on the November ballot. I say vote no. It needs to be rewritten and returned to the ballot in 2012.
The pro side admitted that airport revenues only cover operating costs and enough surplus for only 5 percent of maintenance costs and facilities. The airport gets the other 95 percent from federal FAA grants. You heard that right, airport operators and users are too stingy to maintain their own airport without federal money. They excuse that by saying all community airports do that.
Now, you’d think that maintaining runways, taxiways, and other pavements is an essential part of airport operating expense, just like maintaining roads or any business premises and equipment. What the pro panel was really saying is that the 3-to-5 percent of our population wealthy enough to own and fly planes are unwilling to pay the real cost of flying, so they want the taxpayers to subsidize them. Do we as taxpayers want to do that? Nobody asks us, the county just risks our money without telling us.
One pro panelist said federal FAA grants are “free money.” He stressed we need to get our share, otherwise some other airport would get it. The sheer greed in that statement is phenomenal. The FAA gets its money from fees on airplane tickets and airfreight. Not exactly free. So all the rest of us, rich and poor alike, get to subsidize airplane owners, not to mention the casino junkets landing in Carson Valley.
How does that affect me, I hear you ask. You see, every time the county gets a new federal FAA grant, the county signs a contract that requires the county to maintain whatever the grant is spent on for its useful life up to 20 years. So Joe Citizen will pay for it if the FAA runs short of money or just decides not to provide a future grant.
The pro panelist told the audience if we don’t vote yes to change the ordinance, the FAA won’t pay for the maintenance, so taxpayers will have to. A year ago county officials told the public we were on the hook for $19 million of past grants.
That $19 million figure is grossly overstated, thank goodness, because every liability expires at the end of the useful life of whatever it was spent on, so it could be more like $5 million. Still not chump change per taxpayer.
Problem is, hanging on this revised ordinance are county plans to spend $12 million more in the next five years, plus more multi-millions strengthening taxiways and other pavements. All with FAA grants that Joe Citizen guarantees. All when the economy is spinning downwards and the FAA is certain to start rationing their grant money.
On another day I’ll get my pal Bo the Builder, also a local pilot, to explain more reasons to vote no to the ordinance.
Jack Van Dien