City gives airport a lift
With the approval of another matching grant Tuesday, South Lake Tahoe’s subsidy of the Lake Tahoe Airport will total $600,000 at the end of this fiscal year, assuming revenues and expenses stay constant.
That’s a record gift from the city, according to Councilwoman Brooke Laine. The matching grant approved close to $50,000 in engineering services required for federal funding of a runway reconstruction project. As a condition of approval, Laine said the city will receive any money recovered from a nearly two-year-old lawsuit with a bond company representing Tahoe Air, a commercial carrier that pulled out of the airport owing more than $60,000.
Increased support from the city for an airport that’s supposed to be self-sustaining was the subject of councilmembers’ concern at a workshop earlier in the day.
“It’s imperative in the next six months that the commission pay attention to the bottom line,” Laine said. “I’m concerned we’re sending a message to other city departments that we expect them to come in under budget so we can float the airport.”
Both City Council and the Airport Commission worked to develop what they called an “urgent” plan to breathe outside revenue into the ailing airport.
In six months, the airport has spent a little more than $72,000 than it’s made.
City Manager David Childs said the loss of commercial air service in November, compounded by capital improvement projects, workers’ compensation payouts and costly equipment repairs contributed to the large outlay.
With a renewal of commercial service not in sight and a $14 million runway repair looming, the city and Airport Commission are hoping for some county support.
Although City Council took no formal action in that direction, most of the workshop’s final minutes focused on attracting Douglas and El Dorado counties into a Joint Powers Authority.
The two counties would fork out $125,000 each of the $450,000 the city budgets annually for the airport’s operating costs.
Airport Commissioner Carl Ribaudo said gaining Douglas County aid may largely rely on the economic success of redevelopment and the casino corridor.
However, Councilman Bill Crawford warned against relying on redevelopment projects that have been going on for more than a decade and haven’t greatly increased city receipts.
While the Airport Commission works to gain county support, the City Council approved ways to augment its revenues, by increasing fees from its hanger tenants and Oasis Aviation.
At a 5 percent increase, about 21 hangers would be immediately affected by the increased rents, bringing in $4,800 in additional annual income. As the remaining leases come up for renewal, Childs estimates the annual increase being $12,000.
Through small economic gains, Ribaudo says he hopes to turn around the airport’s grim prospectus and promote more moral support for the airport from South Shore residents.
He said the Airport Commission hasn’t given up on luring another commercial carrier, but until the airport becomes more economically viable and attractive, the commission will focus its efforts on attracting vendors and allocating more space to visitor-oriented services.
“We need a new strategy. The same strategy will get us the same results,” Ribaudo said. “We have to look at the airport, not in terms of home runs, but in singles, bunts and doubles.”
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