To the Adirondack Journal:
I feel compelled to share my views on the development of Warren County’s Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport.
The county supervisors continue to approve the airport’s ongoing expansion plans — including the 1,000-feet extension of one runway — in line with a 2002 Master Plan.
The rationale behind these improvements were sound and supported by financial resources and projected economic benefits at the time the plan was formally adopted. However, having reviewed relevant documents, my conclusion is that there is no basis for continuing along the chartered path, not withstanding issues of safety.
The primary reason for the expansion was to drive area economic development by attracting new businesses and jobs while the county would benefit from fuel tax and sales tax generated. The funding of the expansion calls for 90 percent reimbursement from FAA grants — from commercial passenger flight ticket surcharges, 5 percent from the state and 5 percent locally. This means that anyone in this county who travels by commercial airlines is funding the county airport expansion. Thus, it is your money, along with the other 10 percent — that’s 100 percent taxpayer money.
The crucial issue is the return on the taxpayer's investment. This expansion plan, if fully carried out, will require the future outlay of about $22 million through 2017 — all taxpayer money. I do not know what has been spent from 2002 to present. However, since Jan. 1, 2009, the county has allocated an average of $800,000 per year towards the operation of the airport including the services of an airport manager — which is critical to overseeing FAA regulations.
In return, the county has received a minimum of $70,000 in payments from the county's Fixed Base Operator each year. Included in this payment is 7.5 cents for each gallon of fuel sold to aircraft owners, which averages roughly $ 12,000 per year.
Assuming the lease continues through 2018 under the same terms, the taxpayers will have provided over $8 million for operations plus the $22 million for a total of $30 million while receiving $700,000 in return.
Now, the Board of Supervisors recently approved a paving project relating to the proposed construction of additional hangers at a cost of nearly $250,000 — most of which will be reimbursed by FAA grants. Added to this $30 million sum is the county's contractual obligation to bring water, sewer and utilities to each new structure — 100 percent taxpayer funded and at an unknown cost.
Cited as indirect benefits of the expansion are sales tax collected, including fuel sales and restaurant revenues at the airport. Yet I estimate this amounts to no more than $15,000 per year, based on my research.
As far as the economic development benefits cited, I am not aware of any new business that located in this region because there is an airport. If there is, the question remains — would they have come anyway?
Now, consider the economic reality of the situation. As of Sept. 20, this airport is home base to 46 single-engine planes, one twin-engine craft, two jets and a helicopter — yet there are 100 aircraft registered in Warren County alone. Recent data reveals that 38 percent of air traffic is general aviation, 12 percent air taxi, 3 percent military and 47 percent transient.
Furthermore, official county records reveal that the airport, from mid-October through May, has very little traffic. Roughly 75 percent of all activity occurs in the summer months and peaks during the Saratoga race season which is likely redirected traffic from Saratoga Airport. Thus, our tax dollars are being spent to primarily accommodate overflow traffic from the Saratoga airport.
Couple that with Saratoga expanding their facility and the recent state Department of Transportation’s prediction that general-aviation airports will not see any enhanced aviation usage through 2025, and it’s evident that the Warren County airport could be left with a lifetime of legacy costs — and be facing a financial disaster.
I have arrived at my conclusion. What can conclusion do you draw from this? If you are concerned, contact the supervisor who represents you and discuss it!
Jonathan Mandewell, CPA