County says noto city
The Lake Tahoe Airport tower will have to fly without financial support from Douglas County.
After hearing a last-minute plea from South Lake Tahoe officials for money to run it, Douglas County commissioners declined Thursday to chip in any money to offset an additional $120,000 expense the Federal Aviation Administration imposed for the city’s next budget period.
The commissioners did agree to write letters to the FAA on the city’s behalf. Mayor Tom Davis and City Manager Dave Jinkens came before the panel to ask for help. Davis pointed out that air traffic is up by as much as 30 percent this year.
“If we had extra money, we’d be spending it on our airport,” commissioner James Baushke said of Minden-Tahoe Airport, which operates without an airport tower.
Even though the end result was unanimous, the degree of support varied between members.
Chairman Kelly Kite urged the city to refrain from letting the tower bring down the airport, somewhat agreeing with Baushke.
“I think it’s an incredible asset. I just don’t think commercial service is going in. I don’t want to see the airport go away because Douglas County does derive benefit from it. So let’s not trash the whole thing. But if we take money now and subsidize an airport that’s not even in our state – I don’t want to even think about that,” he said.
Douglas County resident Al Pratt thanked the commissioners for not allocating tax dollars to “a sinking ship.”
The Lake Tahoe Airport costs the city $620,000 annually to operate. This figure is expected to go up to $740,000 if the city doesn’t close the tower. And deficits to the tune of $3.1 million for 2004-05 budget make that challenge an uphill battle.
Even with a hike in landing fees, city management says it’s still short.
“Does anybody ever see the daylight out of this airport?” Commissioner Bernie Curtis said, looking to the multi-million dollar casino industry to gauge support. There hasn’t been any money coming from the casinos thus far.
“They’re shrewder business people than we are. Frankly, if they’re not willing to put money into this than I doubt we are,” he said, adding a betting person “would see the writing on the wall.”
“Someone should have taken note when the city received it for $1,” Curtis continued, referring to the city’s deal with El Dorado County.
But Jinkens argued that the airport offers transportation options that combats pollution given a growing population off both sides of the hill.
“We can’t widen the roads,” he said.
Commissioner Tim Smith said he’s more concerned now with how the airport fits into the regional transportation plan – which is now under the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s microscope. The Governing Board will discuss the revised version of it at its next board meeting slated for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Stateline.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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