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March 26, 2010 - 5:00pm

County Airport is an Integral Part of Our Local Transportation Network

posted by Timothy Hens in airport, finance, economy, Hangars.

Recent editorials in the Daily News, while defending the Genesee County Nursing Home, have been critical towards the funding of a new set of T-Hangars at the Genesee County Airport.  The usual airport slurs such as the "Rich man's playground" and the "Rich get richer" or "Benefits very few" are being used again.  It is important to remember that the Airport is an integral part of our local transportation network and critical to the continued development of the local economy. 

All of the residents of Genesee County benefit directly from the operations of the airport on Saile Drive just as they benefit from a well maintained system of roads and bridges.  In fact, it can be argued from a financial standpoint that they get back more than they put in.

In 2009, Genesee County spent $547,338.07 to operate its airport.  This money was appropriated from the General Fund, which is supported with the property tax levy among other items.  Genesee County staffs the airport and rents or leases property, hangars and tie-down spaces to private individuals and businesses.  In addition, the county sells fuel to based and transient aircraft.  These two revenue sources generated $581,455.12 in 2009 for a total surplus of $34,117.05.  A portion of this surplus, $15,008.05 was used to payback a shortfall in 2008 and the remainder, $19,109.00, was placed in a deferred revenue to be used to offset future airport expenses.  The shortfall in 2008, since paid back, was the first time since 2000 that the airport cost property taxpayers a single penny.

From an operational standpoint the County Airport is cost neutral to property taxpayers.  There is however a tremendous amount of economic and social impact created by the activities at the Genesee County Airport.  Boshart Enterprises and Aircraft Services operate from the Main Hangar at the airport.  This is a successful private business that employees several people.  Several prominent local companies such as Milton Cat, Innovative Energy, Lowe's, National Grid, Western New York Energy and others rely on the airport to run their business.  Mercy Flight houses a aeromedical unit and helicopter at the airport that allows them to respond within minutes of an accident in Genesee County.  In addition, although some events are no longer hosted, the airport supports local community services by hosting pancake breakfasts, meetings, educational tours and other promotional events.

The county does a significant amount of capital development at the airport as well.  Most of these projects are funded with federal and state aid--to the tune of 97.5 cents on the dollar.  These federal and state funds are not generated by income or other payroll taxes, but through fees assessed only to airport businesses and air travellers.  These Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants fund everything from security improvements to runway maintenance and generate and support local jobs when work is awarded at the airport.  Since 2005 Genesee County has contributed $73,129 towards AIP projects and by doing so has leveraged nearly $3 million in infrastructure improvements.  That is $3 million pumped into the local economy via jobs, supplies and services.  The county share of these projects is funded with a portion of the 1% additional sales tax the county collects to fund capital projects and pay long term debt.  The average annual contribution of sales tax to the airport is $14,625.80, which is typically less than the surplus produced by airport operations.

From time to time the county also receives grants from the state to pay for facility improvements, which are not otherwise eligible for federal aid.  The Mercy Flight hangar, a 10-Bay T-Hangar constructed in 2008 and the most recent 8-Bay T-Hangar all are partially offset by state aid.  Both sets of T-Hangars received $300,000 grants that were a part of the 2005 Transportation Bond Act that was approved on a ballot by NYS voters that year.  The remaining portion of the hangars is funded locally.  In 2008, $78,995 was contributed from the airport's deferred revenue account to fund a portion of the remaining share of $395,000.  The payback on the county's investment of approximately $300,000 in each case is about 10.4 years based solely on revenue generated from the rental of the hangars--even less when you factor in additional fuel sales.  Not a bad return on investment for county taxpayers.

So while I can truly appreciate folks trying to garner support for the County Nursing Home and its current and future residents, it is not fair to label the Airport as "Bad" for the County.

Chris Charvella
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Mr. Hens, your 8 new hangars aren't for local businesses or for Mercy flight though, are they? They're for folks who own their own airplanes and need a place to park them. The County Nursing Home made money for us over a span of three decades, it hit the skids right along with the rest of the country. You can have your hangars, I don't have a problem with them at all, but you can only have them when the county isn't broke anymore. Unless the Legislature and the County Manager are willing to admit that there really is money for the home, I will continue to aggressively attack any purely discretionary county project. It's not personal, this issue just happened to affect a service that falls under your department.
Mark Graczyk
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As a point of clarification, The Daily News as a newspaper did not editorialize against the airport hangars. We published letters from readers who opposed the spending of funds for this purpose. I would hope, Mr. Hens, that you plan to send this letter to our newspaper for publication as well. We would, of course, be happy to publish your views on the matter. Mark Graczyk, managing editor, The Daily News
Timothy Hens
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Discretionary is a difficult term to quantify in government. What you may feel is discretionary may be a necessity to another. I'm not trying to argue that the airport is better or worse than the nursing home. They are equally important to different people. My only interest in the response was pointing out that the airport is not "bad" for the county.
John Roach
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Chris, You stated he could only have them "if". I am not sure, but I don't think you won this, since the first contract was approved. The hangers will be built, rented, payed for, and hopefully, make a profit. As for the nursing home, I think it's a done deal and will get sold. The only way you will alter that outcome is to win a majority of seats on the legislature in another 18 more months. Nothing for nothing, but I don't think that is going to happen. You might win the City some day, but the rest of the County will be bit hard to do. I wish you luck.
Chris Charvella
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Like I said Tim, it's not personal. I respect you and the good job you do for the county. I don't blame you for looking for money for airport improvements either. John, the win I was looking for here was a simple reminder to our legislators that the people they represent expect consistency when it comes to spending. I think the point was well made and I'm satisfied with the result. The county gets it's new hangars and our legislators, however they end up voting on the home, will certainly remember this particular exchange of ideas.
Bea McManis
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Most likely the 8 individuals who will enjoy the hangars will never have anyone placed in the nursing home. God only knows, those 8 individuals are far more important in the scheme of Genesee Co. than the well being of our elderly who had the safety net of our county home. Like, Chris, I respect the work done at the airport and applaud the fact that they can get the grant money for improvements. I am surprised that there isn't a cry from the regulars, on here, who distain the thought of grant money.
Howard B. Owens
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Wow, Tim, you got Mark Graczyk to leave a comment. I probably owe you a lunch for that. Also, sorry, but I didn't notice this post when it first came in. I just changed the time stamp so it will appear at the top of the home page.
Howard B. Owens
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Let's see -- the airport makes money. The hangars will help it make more money. It helps bring business to the community (and expansion will help it bring more). The people who park the planes there will pay their own way, and probably with no government help. And this is a bad thing? This is somehow relevant to the Nursing Home issue? I don't get it.
Chris Charvella
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Howard, the nursing home made money for most of its 40 or so years. This is about budget amendments and discretionary spending after we were told the county had no money. Here's a quote from the County Manager's 2010 budget memo: ‘The impact of rising unemployment, flat business activity, limited economic development opportunities and continually increasing uninsured residents/families coupled with multiple daily living stressors create a “perfect storm” for local governments like Genesee County that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.’ Does that sound like we're in good enough shape to spend $600k on a discretionary project, particularly as a budget amendment that takes money out of our general fund? I don't think so. This may be boring to some folks, but I'm going to give an example of why we need to keep cash in the general fund. County Legislators and the County manager are constantly griping about our Medicaid match. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) helped get our Medicaid match bill down to about $140K/ week. That's right, I said per week. Now, when that ARRA money runs out the Medicaid match our county pays is going to spike, I've heard estimates of up to $170K. Don't you think it would benefit us to have a little cash in reserve to handle that expenditure? The money they're spending on hangars could cover better than 30% of that net increase over the course of a year. Bored yet? You won't be when your property taxes and assessments go up again. Will the hangars make money for the county? Sure, but it's a ten year payback that costs the county $300K up front. Can the nursing home make money again? Absolutely, the home started losing money right along with the rest of the country and with the IGT's coming in from the feds, things are looking up. Need some perspective? Think about this: An IGT for the home costs the county between 30-50% of the payment, let's say it's 50%. If the IGT was 3 million, the County would match at $1.5mil, but the $3 million IGT comes in right away and makes the home solvent. Would you rather pay $300K to make $300k ten years from now or spend $1.5 million or less to get $3 million a couple months from now? Anyone starting to see where I'm coming from? I'm looking for someone in county government to admit that there really is money out there, as long as it's being spent on pet projects.
John Roach
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Chris, I thought you supported public money being spent by the government on public projects that also creates jobs?
Karen Miconi
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Chris, I am speechless. Here we go with that "General Fund" stuff again. You mean to tell me the city is using $600,000, of the General Fund, for a playground for the airport?? Excuse Me, "County", still the Taxpayers Money! They are still all in Kahoots. When is someone going to call these guys out?? The city streets are in Horrible Condition, Extreme Disrepair. There are so many more constructive projects, that need completion, in the City and County. Some, that the city, and county have already recieved funding for, yet haven't even been started? The persons who thought this one up, are going to piss our money away, and knowone is going to bat an eyelash?? Huge Injustice to Our City, and County and its people... There is that better? Still PORK....Just like the "Club Med" they wanted to build on the North Side. PORK Prioritize Gentlemen, you work for the Taxpayers, with their money, not yours. This is not a Vacation Fund you are throwing around, its the peoples money.
John Roach
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Karen, The City has nothing to do with this (other than being County taxpayers). It is a County Legislature matter.
Bea McManis
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Posted by Karen Miconi on March 26, 2010 - 7:15pm Chris, I am speechless. Here we go with that "General Fund" stuff again. You mean to tell me the city is using $600,000 Karen, it is the county not the city that is putting up the money for 8 hangars. John, I didn't say that might not have loved ones in nursing homes, they just won't have anyone who needs the services of our county run home. Big difference. People who can pay for an individual hangar can afford private care. The fact remains there are hundreds who will suffer when the legislators, you support and for whom you continually make excuses, remove that safety net that our seniors need.
Howard B. Owens
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Chris, how many consecutive years has the Nursing Home relied on IGT to balance its budget? I wouldn't call that making money.
Howard B. Owens
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Bea, do you think all I do is sit by the computer waiting to see if you get attacked? Sometimes, I do have other things to do. The computer isn't wired into my head.
John Roach
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Bea, Wrong again. Actually, I didn't support any of the current legislatures. You should have remembered me at the 400 Towers for Rose Mary on Election Day. And I supported Chris over Holis. To me, the hanger issue and the Nursing Home are separate. And the idea that because somebody can afford rent to put a plane in a hanger, and is also as wealthy as you think, showed a disconnect. You must think the same of everybody who can afford to keep a boat at a marina.
Bryant Tyson
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Maybe if the Home did a pancake breakfast once a year it would be worth saving.
Timothy Hens
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Just to clarify, the Nursing Home does not receive a General Fund infusion--it is an Enterprise Fund, which means it is expected to pay its own way. Both the Nursing Home cash contribution and the 8-Bay T-Hangar project were budgeted items under the 2010 Capital Plan--which is funded by additional 1% sales tax. The amount the county is spending on the hangars from local sales tax is $300,000. The rest is state money from the 2005 Bond Act.
Howard B. Owens
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Tim, thank you for being willing to jump in and clarify points.
Dave Meyer
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Howard, congratulations!! A county official AND the managing editor of the Daily Bugle all in one post! Where else but on the Batavian?! (at least you know they're watching :)
Dave Olsen
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Yes, Thanks to Mr. Hens for getting involved and putting his point of view out there. We rarely hear from government officials in this forum.
Marty Stucko
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My longstanding question to Tim Hens over the years has been airport usage measured in take off and landings, an airports main deliverable. Numbers offered up always seem unrealistic me. It is also my understanding of airport operations that take offs and landings are not specifically logged or officially accounted for. Most profitable non-governmental businesses know exactly how much customer traffic they have. Now that the runway has been extended because of the: "if you built it they will come” cargo cult thinking, it is doubtful that jet traffic has increased to justify the expense of the lengthening, even though a majority of the airports continual expansion was due to all that “free” money. As for all the economic activity around the airport it is my opinion that most of it is due to: 1) The availability developable land. 2) Batavia’s central geographic, its place relative to Buffalo, Rochester, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Canadia. 3) The increase in fuel/transportation costs, moving closer to your customers makes economic sense. 4) Generous offerings from the State, County and school districts in respects to taxes. Meaning, take the airport totally out of the equation and there is a really good chance that business would still locate on Saile Drive. Finally, my accounting, if you take the total annual cost of the airport and divide that by aircraft events, we would get an event usage cost that measures the public subsidy to those who fly.
Chris Charvella
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Mr. Hens, the hangar project was voted on as a budget amendment and will require a $300,000 transfer from the general fund. It may have been in the Capital Plan but it wasn't in the actual Legislature Adopted Budget as a part of airport expenditure. If it was, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Once again, I'd like to reiterate that I don't have a real problem with an airport expansion, my issue with this particular project is simply that it's a lot of money to spend at a time when we're being told the well is dry. I'm just looking for some sort of consistency from our government.
John Roach
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Chris, "Looking for consistency"? Good luck.
C. M. Barons
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Pipe dream: When high-speed rail is a reality, connecting Buffalo and Rochester, Batavia will be an ideal location for ONE international airport to serve all of western New York.
Mark Potwora
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Did those powers to be that run this county maybe think alot of us that live here don't want an airport like rochester or buffalo, that have jets taking off and landing..that maybe having a small airport with less noise is better...C.M.who in this county wants and international airport ...I personal don't want to here that kind of noise all day and night..Any money that is spent on that airport is taxpayers money..Federal State County its all taxpayer money ,shelled out to sever only a few ...So the statement made by Mr.Hens that it makes money is wrong..The millions that have been spent over there thru the years could of repaved every road in this county,including all the towns and villages..Why isn't there any private money spent to build these hangers..Let some private company do it,and rent them out.. Marty Stucko hit the nail on the head ..For what little aircraft that are landing or takeoff it is one big waste of money..Mr.Hens why not tell us all on here how many planes on a weekly or daily basis take off from that airport..What is the big secret...Its just another example of wasted government spending..How many county employees work over there...Maybe you can clear all that up for us Mr.Hens....I've driven past there at night and they got the whole runway lit up,with no planes in the air or taking off to be found..Who pays that electric bill..
Chris Charvella
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John, you may be right about that, but I've pledged to do everything I can to force that consistency I keep talking about. This small battle served a greater purpose and I'm pleased to say that we're one step closer to a consistent government or a few new legislators. I'll take whatever comes first, when it comes to an open, honest government, I'm not picky.
Bea McManis
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Posted by C. M. Barons on March 27, 2010 - 8:16pm Pipe dream: When high-speed rail is a reality, connecting Buffalo and Rochester, Batavia will be an ideal location for ONE international airport to serve all of western New York. C.M., it is a pipe dream. When high speed rail connects western NY to the rest of the country, then Batavia is the ideal transportation hub that would service both Buffalo and Rochester. Then, and only then, should they consider the ONE international airport for WNY.
John Roach
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Chris, Can you explain how you are closer to either?
tim raines
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40 years ago the county was "talking" about expanding the airport and runways to handle 737 jets because the Rochester and Buffalo population would grow and Batavia would be a suburb of both. 40 yrs later......The Buffalo, Rochester, and Batavia population has declined. Although nice and modern, the Buffalo and Rochester airports are a ghost town. Check again in another 40.........
Howard B. Owens
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Yeah, the Rochester airport is a real ghost town when I have to wait in a 60-minute long security checkpoint line.
Marty Stucko
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If this country had invested in modernizing it rail systems, it is questionable to whether how much we would need: planes/airports and interstate highways/cars/trucks. It is my recollection of history, 1) that the: highway, oil and auto industry subverted the small regional rail systems by buying them up and then closing them down. 2) As to aviation, more money has been spent on the first one hundred years of aviation than the beginning of money, up to the beginning of aviation. The more scarce and expensive petroleum products become, the less feasible aviation becomes, an almost certain inevitability.
tim raines
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In the worlds busiest airport I usually wait 10 minutes in TSA lines. 3 weeks ago in Rochester I waited 5 min. If you waited 60 min in Rochester, you must of been in the Red Osier Beef Sandwich line.
Howard B. Owens
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Try the Rochester Airport at 6 a.m. on a Monday. Thirty-to-60 minute waits are the norm.
C. M. Barons
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I waited over an hour at Sheremetyevo International in Moscow, but that included customs and there were probably 200 people waiting to board several departing flights.
C. M. Barons
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There may be a slew of negatives associated with air transportation, but Batavia is a donut city with residents clinging to a strip of real estate that USED to be supported by a manufacturing base. You will not receive substantive economic base from a race track, K-Mart, Walmart, Rite-Aid, Burger King, etc. etc. Transportation hub serving two large cities is a worthy substitute. Since there is no existing plan, the slate is clean, Batavia is able to design its system from scratch- minimizing the negatives and maximizing the plusses. Why wait until the issue is foisted upon Batavia? The issue with both Buffalo and Rochester airports is passenger counts and ability to expand- neither, alone, can rectify the limitations. Neither can expand or increase the passenger count. Merger is the only feasible solution- the key being Where?
Timothy Hens
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I'll try to address the questions asked in the above comments as no one in the County is trying to keep secrets about the airport. There are two full time county employees that work at the airport--the airport supervisor and a senior airport attendant. They operate the airport Monday-Friday from 7 AM to 8 PM. There are also two part-time employees that man the line service desk on weekends, government holidays and cover vacation and sick leave as required. The only exceptions to line service coverage are major holidays such as Christmas. County Highway provides for pavement maintenance, snow removal and mowing all on a billed basis. County Facility Maintenance also provides services on a billed basis. The runway lights at the airport are pilot activated, otherwise they are off (with the exception of the navigational beacon). A pilot activates the airfield lights by clicking their radio several times when tuned to our local UNICOM frequency. The lights are designed to stay on for 15 minutes and then shut off. If you have seen the lights on at night it is because someone has either recently landed or taken off. Marty has asked for numbers on take-offs and landing in the past, but this number is difficult to obtain as the airport is not manned 24/7 and many take-off and landings are "training-related" in nature. There is no direct tracking and the numbers given to Marty have been FAA estimates--which are also available on the web. Personally, I do not see much use in this number as a transient plane training with GPS navigation or learning how to use the ILS system may takeoff and land 20 times in a short period of time, never taxi to the terminal, use services or take on fuel. This may happen several times a day which skews the traffic number and has no effect on business performance. Again, our local airport is not subsidized with local tax dollars as the airport nets a surplus at year end that offsets all costs. The statement that all money federal or state is our tax money is technically correct--BUT only if you fly on planes. The bulk of the AIP fees (taxes) collected goes towards improving runways and safety at major airports, but minor airports like Batavia also receive AIP money to improve their facilities so that the minor airports may relieve some of the traffic from the major airports. Our airport is designed to "relieve" BUF and ROC from the small planes and business jets that would otherwise "clog" air traffic and become safety hazards at these larger airports. Overall, this has the effect of improving traffic flow and safety at commercial airports which benefits all flyers. Lastly, private money has not invested in hangars due to the added costs of building on leased land, property taxes and private insurance costs. These extra costs significantly extend the return on capital. There are many private airports out there that succeed in renting hangars, but even private airports get federal and state aid for their runway and safety work. There are also many public airports that contract for Fixed Based Operation (FBO) but many of these airport lose money and require a municipal subsidy. In order to be successful with a private FBO an airport needs significant fuel volume--usually driven by a fleet of corporate jets or commercial service. I apologize for the long comment. If anyone has further questions, please feel free to contact me at the Highway Department (585) 344-8508 and I will try to answer to the best of my ability.
John Roach
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CM, You have left out Niagara Falls Int. Airport. The runway is long and plenty of room for expansion, but it never seems to develop.
Mark Potwora
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Thanks Mr. Hens for that information...Four county employees must cost alot a year when including benefits.And i still can't believe that these four employees can't keep some kind of running count as to how many planes are landing or taking off..What are they doing all day..Also when you state," County Highway provides for pavement maintenance, snow removal and mowing all on a billed basis. County Facility Maintenance also provides services on a billed basis".Who are you billing,and isn't that just tax money coming out of a different pot...Maybe Howard could post a poll to see how many people in this county believe we should keep expanding the airport ...Why not try to privatize the airport like the county wants to privatize the nursing home...
C. M. Barons
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Thank you, John. I indeed left it out- in fact Niagara Falls was completely forgotten until you mentioned it. I don't think I've ever even seen that airport. Honestly, until the dollar took a plunge, the only airport I used for international flying was Toronto. It had direct flights- no connection in NYC, and the exchange rate made the ticket price a true savings.

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