Airport lease rates increased, deficit continues

Town council has mentioned that if Ponoka’s industrial airport’s deficit doesn’t start to shrink

Town council has mentioned that if Ponoka’s industrial airport’s deficit doesn’t start to shrink there’s a possibility it could be closed or sold.

For this year council decided to raise the Ponoka industrial airport lease rates by 10 per cent, effective Jan. 1.

In 2011 the airport ran a deficit of $13,044, excluding amortization. The 2012 deficit is expected to be $14,463.

The airport is renting 24 lots, which brings in revenue of $12,809 for 2012.

According to Coun. Doug Gill, a 10-per-cent increase alone won’t be enough to reduce the deficit, and it will continue to grow.

At the Sept. 11 meeting, council discussed other ways to create revenue from the airport. This included profits from gasoline. “We used to take away quite a profit from the gasoline,” said Mayor Larry Henkelman.

A card or key system was discussed to regulate the gas so staff wouldn’t be needed for the job.

Other ideas were a landing fee and an extra $10 per month per plane.

“There is a fee for finance and general services under airport, effective Jan. 1, 2002, the following rates will apply for airport ground fee; $10 per month providing an aircraft is parked at the airport for more than 10 days each month. However, we cannot find when the town has ever received payment for any aircraft parked at the airport,” said Henkelman.

Gill says if every plane paid an extra $10 per month the airport would generate an extra $4,000, approximately, including what’s generated with the 10-per-cent increase.

However, council wanted to know who would collect that extra $10. “It can create a bureaucracy that can end up costing us more than the $10 is going to generate,” said Coun. Rick Bonnett.

Prior to 2011, Ponoka County subsidized the deficit with the town in a 50/50 split. However, in March of 2011 the county withdrew its support, which created an annual shortfall of approximately $5,500.

“There was quite a debate with respect to the removal of the trees,” said CAO Charlie Cutforth, referring to old trees that used to line the airport along Highway 2 that were removed by the town. ‘There was a dissatisfaction with the trees and that was part of it.”

The County also used to have a councillor on the Airport Commission, which they no longer do.

The Ponoka Flying Club was also under agreement with the town that they would help manage the airport. In 2011 they withdrew from their agreement, resulting in the town spending additional money to manage the airport.

Mike Lewis, director of operations and property services, says the airport’s lighting system is also in need of upgrades.

“Now, to get parts for any of this, they’re non-existent,” said Lewis.

“Now, I think we should keep the lights going for as long as we can but these lights aren’t going to last forever. I don’t know how long the electrical department is going to be able to keep them on.”

The airport commission requested town council raise the lease rate by only five per cent this year.

“I have a little problem accepting the airport commission’s recommendation. I don’t think it’s right that they tell us how much we can increase the rates,” said Coun. John Jacobs. “The airport has a big deficit and it’s increasing.”

When the county retracted their support in 2011, council said they would have had to raise the lease by 30 to 40 per cent to cover the costs. They raised it 10 per cent to soften the blow for the airport commission.

“I don’t blame them for asking. Any group would ask to have the blow softened,” said Gill.

Council agreed the way things are now, with the commission, aren’t working. Bonnett wants someone from the commission to come to council and explain why council should increase the lease by only five per cent when the town is absorbing a high deficit. “My question to the Airport Commission is where do you think the money is going to come from?”

“The airport commission has got to stand up and do a little bit of their job . . . Or else do we shut off the lights and not clear the runways?,” said Bonnett. “You (the commission) better have us sitting in a better position next year.”

Jacobs said if the commission continues to run a deficit without helping the council the airport could be shut down or sold.

When council voted to increase fees by 10 per cent, Coun. Loanna Gulka was opposed and wanted to raise it more.

“I have a very, very, very hard time asking the residents of this town to subsidize either a business or someone’s personal hobby. If I can’t afford to do my hobby that’s on me. If I can’t afford to run my business that requires the planes that’s on me. I don’t think we should be asking the residence of this town to pay the in-between costs.”