Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Can't weather economic storm
Airport board cuts manager's position
By Shelley Grieshop
The 122-acre Mercer County airport in Montezuma handles up to 20 commercial and. . .
A 50 percent budget cut has led to the termination of a full-time manager at Mercer County's only airport.
Scott Arnold's last day on the job is Feb. 15, Airport Authority Board President Steve Klosterman said this morning, following a meeting Monday night. The board also made across-the-board cuts wherever it could to combat the $15,000 it won't receive from the county this year. Arnold is the only employee at the airport.
Prior to hearing about the cut, the board had discussed reducing Arnold's $35,000 annual salary, Klosterman said. However, the news of the budget reduction by the county commissioners left few options.
"This really put the nail in the coffin," Klosterman added.
The board hopes to hire someone part time to work a few hours per day, although members don't feel the time will be adequate. Arnold, who resides in Minster, declined the offer, saying it wouldn't be feasible for him to make the drive. He told the newspaper the news about his job was no surprise.
"The economy is behind it, I realize that. But it's unfortunate the county doesn't see the impact this will have," he said.
Klosterman voiced his disgust with the commissioners who have the ultimate authority over the county-owned airport.
"Most counties our size subsidize their airports $50,000 to $100,000 each year," he said. "We've already been working on a shoestring budget for years."
Klosterman noted commissioners cut other Mercer County agencies just 10 percent this year.
Commissioner Bob Nuding said the reason the airport was hit harder than other departments is simple.
"It's mandates versus nonmandates. We have serious budget constraints right now and the law dictates we fund certain agencies," he said. "The airport's not one of them."
The airport's operational costs in 2009 were approximately $80,000. Besides the county, the airport draws revenue from hangar rental ($100 per month) and the sale of fuel. But those incomes have diminished in recent years due to the sluggish economy, Klosterman said.
"Five years ago we had 30 recreational vehicles on the field. With the recession, many pilots sold off their planes and now we have 15," he said.
Fuel revenues are down about $2,000 per month compared to five years ago, he added.
Klosterman believes the absence of a full-time manager will have far-reaching effects. The airport is vital for attracting business and industry to the area, he said.
"This could really hurt the county when it comes to job creation. Companies look at the quality of the airport," he said. "It's their 'highway to the sky.' "
The 122-acre airport handles, on average, up to 20 commercial and 30 recreational flights per week, Klosterman said. Someone needs to keep the runway clear, answer the phone and help fuel commercial planes, he said.
Commercial aircraft traffic is on the rise, but he believes that will falter without a full-time, on-site manager.
Another problem on the horizon could be the $2 million in federal FAA funding the airport has netted the last few years for an ongoing runway expansion project. Klosterman said the FAA requires all grant recipients to keep their airports open and operational for 20 years.
"We'll keep it open but it might not meet FAA standards," he said.
If the FAA doesn't approve, they could demand repayment of the grant or take other measures, Klosterman explained.