Editorial: Slow down on airport decisions
June 25, 2013
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  • Warren County supervisors seemed to be in a hurry to renew the county airport operator’s contract, and we wish they had slowed down.

    Supervisors signed on last week to another five-year contract with Rich Air, the airport’s fixed base operator, after a debate in which some supervisors asked for more time to examine the airport’s finances.

    Rich Air is finishing its first five-year contract with the county, and its owner, Rich Schermerhorn, wanted the contract renewed right away.

    His supporters on the board said he has put more than $1 million into renovations, and the contract guarantees the county $70,000 in revenue each of the five years, as well as a cut of fuel sales.

    A few supervisors who have criticized the cost to the county of running the airport wanted a short-term contract extension approved, during which time the county could take a closer look at the airport’s books.

    The county spends more than $800,000 a year on the airport, which means, even with the revenue from Rich Air, running the airport costs the county more than three-quarters of a million dollars a year.

    The question is whether the economic benefits of the airport are worth that much to the county’s taxpayers.

    Harold “Bud” Taylor, a county supervisor from Glens Falls’ 3rd Ward, believes the airport is “a tremendous economic development tool” that more than pays for itself.

    Taylor points to a state economic impact study that concluded the airport generates more than $8 million a year of economic activity.

    We’re skeptical. These studies use dubious formulas to multiply the effect of legitimate expenditures, such as salaries paid to airport employees, and include economic activity that would be taking place anyway, just not at the airport.

    Executives who fly in to the airport because their companies have local plants, for example, are still going to visit the local plants if the airport closes. They can fly in to Albany and rent a car, or a limo, to get to the Glens Falls area, and save their company the huge expense of using a corporate jet.

    We wonder whether most county residents would notice if, one day, the airport shut down.

    Taylor argues the county spends money on various services that don’t pay for themselves or produce any cash return. But the critical difference with the airport is that very few county taxpayers use it.

    Warren County spends millions maintaining roads and bridges, but most adult county residents drive, and everyone relies on the network of roads in one way or another.

    But our airport serves private plane owners and operators, and does not have commercial service.

    Legitimate questions are being asked by those supervisors, who have been critical of airport spending and of a planned runway expansion, such as Queensbury at-large Supervisor Mark Westcott.

    Westcott has asked how much the runway expansion would increase safety at the airport, since that has been put forward as a justification for the project. Is the airport unsafe now?

    He has asked how much the runway expansion would boost economic activity, since that has been cited as a reason for going ahead with it. Will many more planes and pilots fly in to Queensbury each year if the runway is lengthened from 5,000 to 6,000 feet?

    He has asked why the airport carries an FAA designation that allows commercial service, when it has no commercial service.

    Westcott and a couple of other supervisors wanted to delay signing a five-year contract, suggesting an eight-month extension while county officials took a closer look at the airport’s operations under Rich Air.

    That seems a reasonable request, but it was rejected.

    Aside from the status of the operator contract, county leaders can, and should, re-examine spending at the airport. They have yet to convince us we’re getting our money’s worth.

    Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Ted Mirczak.