Budget goes skyward
Washington city councilman Bob Shellmyer raised questions Wednesday night about why the airport overspent its budget by $200,000 in the last fiscal year. Airport commission chairman Mike Roe attended the meeting and told the council the airport more than made up for those extra expenses with additional revenue.
“We made a profit of about $8,000 last year,” Roe said. “We had a great year. Crop dusters flew from March or April through August or September, which really impacted the farm economy around here.”
Shellmyer asked Roe what kept the airport from staying within the budget it requested.
“Great business,” Roe replied.
Roe said that the airport is operated just like any other business, which means that sometimes it needs to spend money to make money. For illustrative purposes, he compared the airport’s fuel sales to a business that sells widgets. He asked the council to imagine what the business would do if it sold all its widgets in a year.
“We say we’re going to sell 100,000 widgets, and sales are great,” he said. “By the ninth month, maybe we’ve sold all those widgets. Do we stop buying widgets, and let the last three months go without any profits? Do we ruin our customer base and, in our case, hurt the farm economy because they have to fly much farther to get fuel?”
Roe said the airport has been self-funding for a few years by generating revenue from its fuel sales and hangar rentals. He said that has negated the need for taxpayer funds.
Shellmyer told Roe that the airport could make more money if it charged more for its fuel. He said that, of all the airports he looked at in southeast Iowa, Washington charged the least for fuel, which was $5.52 per gallon for 100 low-lead.
“If you had just added a nickel to that $5.52, you’d have shown a $4,000 profit at the end of the year,” Shellmyer said.
Roe said the airport commission realizes it charges comparatively little for its fuel, and that it does that intentionally as a marketing tool to sell more fuel.
“We compete with airports across Iowa,” he said. “We pick up business from jet traffic, single-engine traffic, multi-engine traffic, from the East Coast to the West Coast.”
Shellmyer said the airport lost $1,000 on its fuel sales. Roe disputed that, saying that Shellmyer’s figure did not take into account fuel the airport bought at the end of the fiscal year which it will sell during this fiscal year.
Shellmyer said he was not trying to be critical of the airport and that he just wanted an explanation of its rising expenses.
“We’ve upped your budget this year by $112,000,” he said.
“And it’s airport money,” Roe said. “It’s not city dollars. Under Iowa law, the airport commission has total control over funds the airport produces at the airport. We have spent that money very wisely over the years.”
“There’s no question about that,” Shellmyer said. “I used to use your runaways when I was a student pilot.”
Shellmyer also asked Roe why the airport was moving its runway. Shellmyer said he was once told that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required Washington to move its runway, but after talking with two FAA officials, he learned that FAA did not in fact require the airport to move its runway.
Roe said the runway is 50 years old and deteriorating. The FAA recommended replacing the runway to Washington and offered to pay for 90 percent of the cost to upgrade it. However, the airport would also have to comply with the FAA safety standards, which meant moving the runway 750 feet to the northwest so it’s away from airport road.