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County Airport is an Integral Part of Our Local Transportation Network

By Timothy Hens

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.

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