Friday, September 30, 2005
Airport wrestles with spending, federal funds
By David Bunker
The Truckee (CA) Sierra Sun
The Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board will consult with a Federal Aviation Administration expert before deciding whether to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that come with stipulations. The airport board, which voted 4-1 to approve the airport’s annual budget on Sept. 22 after a contentious discussion that ended with Michael Golden opposing the budget, will meet on Oct. 27 with a federal grant expert to understand what obligations come with accepting the FAA money.
The approved airport budget relies on $900,000 of its $3 million reserve to finance items such as pavement maintenance, noise abatement activities and snow removal equipment. However, those costs could be offset if the board decides to collect federal grant money.
While the airport will dip into reserves, the board disagreed on whether the action constituted deficit spending.
“This is not deficit spending,” said board member Steve Swigard, who noted the purchase of snow removal equipment and some of the pavement work was not a recurring expense, but an investment in the airport.
The airport’s reserve funds are accumulated for such a purposes, he said.
Board President Michael Golden disagreed, calling the approval of a budget with $900,000 more in expenditures than revenue “irresponsible.”
The decision to delay a decision on the FAA funding is not wise either, Golden said.
“This decision has been perpetually put off,” Golden said. “By taking no action you lose the money.”
The board’s approved budget will include $450,000 they are eligible for in federal funds, with a “red flag” denoting that the board will confirm or eliminate the FAA funding at a later date.
“We’re deciding not to decide right now,” said board member Mary Hetherington.
The deadline to keep $150,000 of federal funding from being lost is October of 2006, according to airport officials.
Hetherington said she hopes to hear the FAA expert’s interpretations of the federal obligations that come with the funds.
“You need to know what your options are,” Hetherington said.
Hetherington said she wants to know if by not accepting federal funding, the airport will have more flexibility to determine its own destiny.
“Do we set our own course, and can we set our own course?” Hetherington asked.
FAA funding comes with 39 “grant assurances,” which are obligations the airport must fulfill if it receives federal money.
Golden, in voting against the budget, said that the airport is already bound by the assurances forever because the district has used federal funds to buy property.
“It’s not like you are making a deal with the devil here,” Golden said. Swigard, who voted for the budget after the board decided to pencil in the $450,000 in federal funding pending the October meeting, said he has no problem with the other board members taking their time to decide on the aviation funding. But he said he believes that federal funding will be crucial in maintaining the airport in the long run.
A long term asphalt maintenance plan may cost more than $2 million a year – a number he characterized as “staggering.”
“Frankly I don’t see how the airport can do that without help from the FAA,” Swigard said.