The City Council said it might have to make some hard choices this year about the operation of Sioux Gateway Airport.
That discussion came Tuesday night during the council's review of the airport's operating budget that calls for using National Guard money to pay the city's share of the airport's operating subsidy next year.
The administration's proposed budget calls for eliminating the $828,949 subsidy from the general fund, which is supported by property taxes. Instead, airport director Glenn Januska said Sioux Gateway could use part of its $5.1 million from the Air National Guard to pay the subsidy next year. The airport is receiving that money as part of the 185th Fighter Wing's conversion to KC-135 refueling tankers.
"I have a lot of concern about this," Councilman Marty Dougherty stated. "It's a one-shot deal. Anytime you use this money to plug it in here, it won't be there next year."
Finance director John Meyers said initially the use of the National Guard money to offset the city's share of airport operations makes sense.
"No one wants to levy more taxes. This would get them through next year. Hopefully, in that year, air traffic will improve," Meyers said. "If it doesn't, there be some very difficult choices out at the airport. It's that simple."
Dougherty said, "Maybe it's time to make a hard choice now. I hate to go another year and the bottom drops out."
Councilman Dave Ferris asked how the city would have paid for the subsidy without the National Guard revenue. Meyers said the administration probably would have proposed deferring $465,000 worth of capital projects to improve some of the taxiways.
The council asked Januska and the Finance Department to draft a report on paying only about half of the subsidy out of the Guard funds for next year and stretching that money out into 2005 as well. The council will take up the matter during a later budget wrap-up session.
"The bottom line is the economy has to strengthen or its going to be very difficult," Meyers said.
Januska noted, "Our health care and insurance costs are increasing. The number of flights and number of passengers are decreasing."
The decline in flights and passengers can be traced back to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. On April 1 last year, American Connections pulled out of Sioux Gateway, leaving only Northwest Airlines providing passenger service. American Connections used to be called Chautauqua Airlines and prior to that, Trans World Express.
"Unless something changes with the airline industry, it's going to be tough," Januska said.
Dougherty said he knows running an airport entails a great amount of repair and maintenance work.
"We have a number of obligations to the Air Guard so they can fly those new planes in here."
Januska has said that most of the Guard money has been earmarked for taxiway construction, removing the Mid-America Air Museum building and restoring that site and paving the Petroleum-Oil-Lubricant Road.
Januska noted his budget was hit by the elimination of a $33,000 state marketing grant. He said he was in Des Moines Tuesday lobbying the Legislature and Gov. Tom Vilsack to restore airport marketing funds statewide that were eliminated last year.
Sioux Gateway's proposed budget for 2004 is $2.12 million, compared to an adjusted budget of $2.22 million this year.
Lynn Zerschling may be contacted at (712) 293-4202 or firstname.lastname@example.org