Land debt raises concern at airport budget hearing

An airplane that landed at Frederick Municipal Airport last year uses a taxiway as another takes off. The airport has nearly balanced its budget, except for a substantial land debt.

Frederick Municipal Airport's budget is nearly balanced, apart from a substantial land debt that concerned some city aldermen.

The airport will need just $76,100 out of the general fund to cover nearly $2 million in total expenses, according to a budget workshop presentation Tuesday.

The airport is on a five-year plan to become more self-sustaining, according to economic director Richard Griffin, and is expected to generate $912,527 in revenue this year.

It is also looking to reduce its operating expenses, which will be $571,000 under the proposed budget, 30 percent less than last year.

That progress toward financial self-sustainability has been hampered by an $11 million bond used to buy airport land.

“We're really close on the operations side of things; it's just the land debt that is a large challenge for us,” Griffin said.

The city will pay nearly $1 million per year to repay the bond beginning in 2016, which raised concerns among some of the aldermen.

“I have to admit that it's pretty alarming to me to learn that we're going to be subsidizing the airport $1 million a year,” Alderman Phil Dacey said.

The bond issue goes to 2023, according to budget director Katie Barkdoll. At that time, Frederick will need to pay $5 million for a property bought to expand the airport runway, Bowman's Farm.

When the farm was purchased, the city expected that the Federal Aviation Administration would reimburse it, according to Griffin; however, the FAA has yet to do so.

“At this time, it has not been deemed as an eligible, reimbursable property,” he said.

The city needs to keep working to get reimbursed for the purchase, Griffin said, or sell the property. Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak seemed concerned about the desirability of the farm.

“As an investor, I certainly don't consider that a property that is worth very much,” she said.

Despite the challenge of the debt, Griffin and airport manager Rick Johnson emphasized the airport's potential as an economic driver for the Frederick at the budget hearing.

“It's another tool in the toolbox to support businesses and economic activity,” Griffin said.

Johnson distributed a booklet prepared by the Maryland Aviation Administration that showed that airport activity generated 1,286 jobs and more than $7 million in local taxes.

Hangar rentals have been profitable at the airport, according to Johnson. They will generate $418,000 in revenue, $132,000 of which will be profit. He said more hangars would generate more revenue, and there was a waiting list of more than 50 clients interested in renting hangar space.

Art Dee, president of the airport commission, spoke on behalf of the airport, saying that an airport that can properly serve executives was one of the key items he looked for when he used to help select corporate facility sites.

“The airport is an extremely critical asset to the city,” he said. “Overall, I agree with the budget. I wish there was more money there. I wish there was more economic development.” 

Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.

(3) comments

elymus43

Elected officials like to throw around words like expected/projected/and potential revenue. Who knows what a project will bring before bringing it? Jimtown if they have a airport would be busier than Frederick,s airport??? Our elected officials keep throwing money and only talk about how much money something will bring in the future. It never looks like the airport is going to pay for itself.

woodsboro curling

Maybe Blaine can sell it for you!!![beam]

public-redux

A subsidy program for poor private airplane owners; a subsidy program for impoverished minor league baseball club owners; a subsidy program for low-income golfers. No wonder city taxes are so high.

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