Voters must approve ordinance
On Sept. 29, we were pleased to welcome Douglas County Commissioners Dave Brady and Nancy McDermid to a meeting with airport business owners and associate members.
The issue that is top of mind for the 22 business owners and their 150 employees, all whom earn their livelihood at the Minden-Tahoe Airport, is the airport use ordinance. This ordinance comes up for vote on Nov. 2.
Business owners and associates in attendance were pleased to learn from Mr. Brady that this airport is “the gem of Douglas County.”
Ms. McDermid gave the airport elevated status by stating “it (the airport) needs to be considered by all, as equal in stature to incorporated cities within our county.”
When each commissioner was asked how they felt about the likelihood of voters passing the airport use ordinance in november, both indicated passage of the ordinance was not a foregone conclusion.
A follow-up question, relating to what they and the board of commissioners have as a contingency plan should voters reject the ordinance, was voiced. Both commissioners admitted there was no contingency plan.
This response came as quite a surprise to the business owner group.
We business owners don’t understand how, if accurate information is provided, a majority of Douglas County voters could reject the ordinance.
The choice seems simple.
A yes vote means the airport regains compliance status with FAA grant assurance programs and airport operations remain unchanged and as they have been conducted since 1943.
A no vote means the airport remains in non-compliance status with the FAA, federal funding will continue to be withheld and county taxpayers are suddenly responsible for on-going funding of airport upkeep.
What is the scope of potential taxpayer liability in these matters?
The 2010-11 Airport operating budget is $1.4 million. And currently, no local taxes are required to fund this budget. These maintenance costs were previously fully funded by airport businesses, airport users and FAA grants.
The FAA is by far the biggest contributor, providing nearly 95 cents out of every dollar required for maintaining airport operations. The airport requires no money from the Douglas County general fund.
Airport maintenance is projected at about $1 million per year for each of the next five years. Thereafter, the amount is likely to increase. This additional burden on the county annual budget, absent FAA funding, will prove to be unbearable.
The practical effect will certainly be a drastic reduction, if not elimination, of services to our residents. These services include: senior citizen support, library privileges, and juvenile guidance programs.
The consequence of not being in compliance with FAA regulations has already cost the Airport at least $6 million in federal grants, this year to date. Additionally, there is a risk that the FAA may require a refund of some $19 million in Federal grant funds previously accepted by the county. And some county land lease contracts with business owners run 40 years and more.
A yes vote on the ordinance will bring us back into compliance with the FAA and hence, back into the queue for federal funding. This will allow the county to meet all airport financial obligations, without needing to raise taxes to meet those obligations.
In summary, this county simply cannot afford the negative impact of the loss of any airport maintenance funding or any of our citizen services.
The good news is we can easily avoid these negative consequences by voting yes on the proposed airport use ordinance, come Nov. 2.
John B. Brown is the owner of Flying Start Aero at the Minden Tahoe Airport.