By Don Lehman
QUEENSBURY — Warren County could privatize operations of its airport without having to repay millions of dollars in grants awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration, research by the county treasurer has found.
The office of county Treasurer Michael Swan looked into the finances of the various options the county could take at the Warren County Airport, where the operating deficit is projected to grow over the next several years. Swan’s office projected the deficit will grow by nearly 20 percent by 2017, to more than $1 million a year.
Swan said his office undertook the analysis because questions were being raised about the expense to the county of operating the airport.
One issue brought up as a limitation on the county’s options is a possible repayment requirement on some or all of the $16.2 million in FAA grants the airport has received since 1992.
Swan said grant repayment would be an issue if the county were to sell the property for use as something other than an airport. But the county could turn operations over to a private company, as long as the property was used for a public airport, without being required to repay the grants.
Swan said his office “looked at ideas floating around” among supervisors, but no formal proposal to privatize or sell the airport has been made.
The county contracts with Rich Air to serve as “fixed base operator” of flight operations, but the county also has five employees at the airport to otherwise operate and maintain it.
County supervisors on the Board of Supervisors Facilities Committee had a lengthy, wide-ranging discussion Tuesday about the airport, the cost of running it and its future that was prompted in part by a recent Post-Star comparison of airport spending in Warren County to spending at other regional municipal airports.
Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Bud Taylor and Queensbury at-Large Supervisor William Mason suggested the county set up a committee to look at airport operations and a proposed runway extension. The Facilities Committee did not take action on the request, however.
Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Mark Westcott has proposed slashing the airport budget by 50 percent. He said Tuesday supervisors will have to make decisions about whether the deficits from airport operations are worth maintaining at the same time as deficits from other programs grow in the coming years.
Glens Falls 1st Ward Supervisor Dan Girard, chairman of the Facilities Committee that oversees the airport, said he believes the airport’s positive impact on tourism and economic development make it worth operating. He said having an airport “sets us apart form other communities.”
“What we probably have is an airport that is underutilized,” Girard said.
In other airport news, airport Manager Ross Dubarry told supervisors Tuesday that Rich Air plans to charge “transient” airplanes a landing fee of $15 for single engine planes and $20 for twin-engine aircraft. Planes based at the airport will not be charged.
The airport historically has not charged landing fees, Dubarry said. The county will get 3 percent of the revenue that Rich Air brings in through the fee.