Split decision on airport | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Split decision on airport

Robert Stern

Discussions over the fate of the Lake Tahoe Airport often became heated at Tuesday’s City Council budget workshop.

The issue split the council in a 3-2 vote. Councilmembers Brooke Laine and Bill Crawford strived to reduce the airport subsidy of $603,000, an all-time high, to $350,000.

Council members Tom Davis, Judy Brown and Mayor Hal Cole, chose to stick with City Manager David Childs’ recommendation, which is to fully fund the airport in anticipation that funding partners will be found to reduce the city’s contribution.

“The budget cycle starts in October and if we yanked half of the funds for the airport now, I think it would cause confusion,” Cole said.

Brown and Davis echoed the sentiment, saying the City Council gave direction to the Airport Commission in April to develop a three- to five-year plan, which the commission is in the process of doing.

The City Council Tuesday voted 4-1 to accept the commission’s recommendation to hire Baltimore-based consultants Edwards and Kelcey for $25,000, pending complete funding of the plan from outside sources.

The consultant’s Strategic Action Plan is slated to attract funding partners such as El Dorado County and Douglas County to reduce the city’s airport contribution, attract commercial air service and make the airport a transit hub.

Several council members expressed concerns over the mixed messages being sent to the Airport Commission and staff.

“Even though it was 4-1 on that particular item, that is part of the mixed message the council is sending, saying ‘OK go ahead get this strategic action plan in place’ and in the same breath say ‘Oh, now we’re going to cut half your budget,'” said Brown.

Crawford, who voted against hiring the consultants, said later: “I don’t think bringing in the consultant is going to make a difference in the long run. If we can’t be persuasive enough on a local level to get things done, I don’t know what those consultants from Baltimore can tell us.”

El Dorado County committed $10,000 to the Strategic Action Plan. The South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority could contribute $5,000 each.

The City Council Tuesday unanimously approved an $11.7 million capital improvements grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, pending additional funding sources for the 10 percent match. Although Laine voted for the grant, she said the only reason is because there is a “safety valve.” The City Council will have 18 months to decide if it will use the grant.

The acceptance of the grant could include various grants and a loan to pay for the match that would require a $60,000 to $75,000 annual payment by the city, which could be reduced by outside funding sources, if the project moves forward, according to a staff report by airport/transit manager Mike Dikun.

The city will have the option of immediately using $190,000 for runway repairs, without having to commit to the entire grant. If the city accepts only a portion of the grant for runway repairs, it will only be responsible for a 10 percent match of what it spends, Childs said.

Earlier this year, the FAA declared repairs were needed on the runway or part of it could be closed.

Most councilmembers acknowledge budget cuts for the airport may be necessary in the future. The city has a budget of $21 million with a budget gap of nearly $2 million. The city will begin discussions on generating increased revenue shortly after the budget is passed Oct. 2.

“Over the next six months, we need to find some new revenue or we are going to have to make some major cuts, and the airport could be one of them,” Cole said.

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