June 26, 2008

Fly the Empty Skies: Joslin Field Budget Stays the Same, but More Asked From City, County

By Jared S. Hopkins, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho

Jun. 26--There may be fewer travelers at Joslin Field, Magic Valley Regional Airport, but bills still need to be paid.

As commercial service at the airport decreases, taxpayers are being asked to make up the drop in revenue.

The overall airport budget is increasing by less than 1 percent -- just more than $6,100 -- but due to various revenue shortfalls, officials are seeking a 7.6 percent jump in subsidies from Twin Falls city and county, according to the budget request.

The request comes at a time when the airline industry is making drastic changes to meet rising costs. Earlier this month, the sole air carrier in Twin Falls, SkyWest, cut back its five daily round-trips to Salt Lake City to four.

City of Twin Falls Finance Director Gary Evans said taxpayers are being asked to cover the drop in revenue from passenger service. The overall expenses are relatively similar to last year's but revenues are tailing off due to fewer flights, said Airport Manager Bill Carberry.

"We want to plan conservatively on the revenue side," he said after meeting with Twin Falls County commissioners.

Meanwhile, revenue for general aviation is estimated to increase. For example, hangar rentals -- which brought in $18,089 in 2007 and are budgeted at $35,000 in 2008 -- are projected to increase to $41,200.

"We've got a few guys talking about building hangars," Carberry said. "There are about two or three on the drawing board."

Since 1968, the city and county have co-owned the airport. In the 2008 fiscal year, each entity pledged $280,469. In 2009, they would each support about $21,400 in additional funding. About 53 percent of the overall $1.13 million budget would come from taxpayers.

But Evans noted the public won't directly feel the crunch since there's an increase in the tax levy rate and the budget will essentially be paid for by growth and new construction. He said the 7.6 increase to both the city and county is nearly equal to the rise in property taxes for new growth.

Commissioner Terry Kramer said that he didn't anticipate any changes being made to the budget. But Tuesday's meeting with Carberry and the city's finance department was not typical of the airport budgeting process. Carberry said the budget was usually transmitted via letters and documents, not face-to-face.

"Nobody (on former county commissions) looked at it until now," said Kramer. "They'd just write the check."

After locating the 1968 agreement several months ago, the commissioners have said they plan to review it to see whether it needs to be restructured. The subsidy amount is determined through a formula by the city. The county matches the amount, but commissioners are concerned whether it's fair.

Evans said a big drop in revenue is the $50,000 from the Air Magic Valley Air Show for this year's budget -- a projection that could be more after the air show, said Evans -- but isn't planned for next year. Carberry also noted Aircraft Rescue Firefighting fees paid by airlines will decrease by $10,500.

The airport is requesting $78,100 for several capital improvement projects, including $37,500 for a tractor and $3,300 for an ice machine at the airport restaurant.

When Commissioner George Urie asked whether there was any chance of finding additional revenue sources, Carberry said the Airport Advisory Board will review various fee rates this summer.

Jared S. Hopkins may be reached at 208-735-3204 or [email protected]

Major airport revenue changes

Revenue changes considered "major" by Twin Falls Finance Department

2007-08 Budget 2008-09 Estimate Terminal rentals $40,000 $45,000 Fix-based operator rentals $15,000 $19,000 Hangar rentals $35,000 $41,200 Rental cars $100,000 $120,000 Terminal food rentals $6,000 $7,200 Landing fees $87,000 $78,950 Aircraft Rescue Firefighting fees $120,000 $109,500 Airshow $50,000 $0 Interest income $13,000 $8,000

Net major changes to revenues: loss of $37,150

Source: Twin Falls Assistant Finance Director Lorie Race


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