City supportive of airport investment |

City supportive of airport investment

Jenifer Ragland

On the same day city leaders moved forward with $1.2 million in sweeping budget cuts, they pledged to do whatever it takes to attract and retain commercial service at the Lake Tahoe Airport.

The South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday voted to endorse the findings made in a study by Aires Consultants, Ltd. and directed staff to find the funding source needed to carry out the recommendations.

The Aires report analyzes the city’s options to increase revenues at the airport, and suggests a full marketing, public relations and monitoring program designed to bring in a permanent, reliable air carrier as the best solution.

Freddi Comperchio, an Aires consultant, estimated the cost of such a program at $150,000. If successful, she said the city’s subsidy of the airport could be reduced by $475,000 over the next three years.

Comperchio made her case to the council, stressing she has no doubt there is a demand for direct air service into Tahoe, despite the existence of a major international airport in Reno.

“As far as Lake Tahoe is concerned, the passengers exist,” she said. “It’s how to get them here and how to keep getting them here that you have to work on.”

Included in the council’s action was the creation of a subcommittee, made up of Mayor Tom Davis and Councilwoman Margo Osti, to work with staff and look for potential private partners in the business community.

But it was clear that most council members were ready to step up to the plate as far as getting air service off the ground.

“I really do embrace this report. I feel we have an asset out there that we have never taken responsibility for marketing,” Osti said. “We have left the future of the asset in someone else’s hands. It’s time we take charge of that asset and we become the single voice in moving this forward.”

Councilman Kevin Cole also supported the study, saying he was prepared to dedicate the necessary money out of the city’s contingency account for 1997-98. That fund, which sits at about $350,000, is the result of savings realized by early implementation of personnel and service cuts throughout the city.

“I think it’s really high time we take the bull by the horns and take responsibility for this,” Cole said. “If it means we fund the entire marketing plan, I think that’s appropriate.”

Janis Brand, airport spokeswoman, said she was very pleased with the council’s direction, because she believes $150,000 is a small investment for something that could be very profitable.

“One hundred thousand passengers would bring $1.2 million in additional revenue to the city in TOT and sales tax, and an overal economic benefit to the community of about $150 million,” she said. “Nothing else they put money into will have this kind of return and possible benefit.”

The topic was included in the 1997-98 preliminary budget discussions related to the city’s enterprise funds – South Tahoe Area Ground Express and the Lake Tahoe Airport.

Council members Tuesday night approved a $289,765 subsidy to the airport’s budget, money that comes out of a percentage of Transient Occupancy Tax revenues dedicated to promotion. The subsidy represents about 38 percent of the airport’s total operating budget – anticipated at $751,910.

Councilman Hal Cole voiced some skepticism as to whether a marketing plan would in fact cause airlines to change their decision about flying into the Lake Tahoe Airport.

“I would think the airlines that have been contacted have made their decisions based on finances. How will marketing change their minds?” he asked. “I’m just not convinced that a major airline is going to come in here. I appreciate your optimism that you think they can make money, but perhaps they don’t think they can make money.”

He asked several questions of Comperchio, including if she looked into the possibility of moving City Hall and city offices into the terminal building while still maintaining Federal Aviation Administration certification. The logic being that the city could then save the $100,000 in rent and soon $4,500 in property tax paid on the building now housing City Hall on Lake Tahoe Boulevard.

That question stirred some discussion among council members and City Manager Kerry Miller, who insisted that was a separate issue and was not relevant to the discussion.

Hal Cole eventually supported the motion, noting that he would like to see any money dedicated to promoting the airport come out of the city’s promotional fund and not the contingecy reserves.

Despite the comment from one citizen saying he didn’t think the city could ever get a major airline to offer service here, the council voted unanimously to make a serious attempt at it.

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