Airport tower funds by Oct. 1 or close | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Airport tower funds by Oct. 1 or close

Susan Wood

What’s the price of public safety?

This was the perplexing question that occupied the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday in determining whether to continue funding the Lake Tahoe Airport tower. It runs out of money Oct. 1.

Surviving another 11th-hour threat of closure yesterday afternoon, the manned tower’s expense to the city will almost double in the next fiscal year to $220,000, an increase of $100,000, because of the Federal Aviation Administration’s new structure of shared expenses that places more of the burden on the city.

A hike in landing fees and the implementation of ground transportation charges seem unable to make up the difference at their current rate, despite year-to-date traffic counts showing a 28 percent rise to 12,763 flights as of July.

The city will draft a letter to Douglas and El Dorado counties seeking help. Within the motion crafted by Councilman Hal Cole, the notice is due to say the tower will close at the end of September if the funding doesn’t come through.

The vote was 4-0, with Councilman John Upton absent.

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If the council chooses to continue funding it in the future, the decision would require a budget appropriation.

The remaining council members appeared to have a split vote on whether to close the tower Tuesday.

Mayor Tom Davis and Councilwoman Judy Brown were leaning toward taking the necessary measures to keep it open. Council members Hal Cole and Kathay Lovell suggested otherwise.

“I think this is the moment of truth. While we don’t like it, we can’t afford to keep it open,” Lovell said. “We can hope and wish all we want, but the reality is – it’s not happening.”

She added the difficulty in expecting police and fire units to take cuts in a 10 percent, across-the-board hit on each city department.

“They’re out there every day risking their lives,” she said.

While pledging not to amend the budget for the subsidy, Cole agreed.

“(That money) could go a long ways to public safety,” he said.

But safety represented one of the main issues Davis and Brown said they were considering in finding a way to come up with the subsidy.

“We’ve got to find a way to fund it. What’s a life worth?” the mayor said.

According to pilots, wind currents pose hazards unlike Truckee and Minden airports, which operate without towers.

All who spoke at the public hearing were in favor of keeping it open.

If the airport tower is shut down, the city staff believes the South Shore facility will never get commercial air service.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com