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home : opinions : your opinions August 19, 2014


4/10/2013 1:01:00 PM
Airport facts were incorrect
Bob Heffner, Rice Lake

I was glad to read in Eric Wright's letter a couple of weeks ago that he recognizes both the need for a good airport and the fact that Rice Lake has such a facility. Unfortunately, he recited erroneous figures regarding both the former Arrowhead Airport and the new airport.
In 1991, the old Airport started with a cash reserve of $5,400. The city put in nearly $110,000 in tax dollars, which just covered the $108,000 in expenses that year. That is hardly self-sufficient.
In 2012, the new airport had a cash reserve of $223,291. The city put in $254,617 in tax money but had income from a variety of sources, including hangar rentals and fuel sales of $192,085. The cash reserves represent tax dollars that were part of the budget but not used. The airport was under budget last year by roughly $62,000, a pretty efficient operation.
It was also stated that the airport receives grants from state and federal aviation funds but has to pay 10% of the total grant as the city's share. Another false statement. In the past that was normal, but in recent years the city's share has been 5% for some projects and only 2.5% for others. Because Rice Lake has completed some work below budget, the city has paid virtually nothing for some projects.
One of those was the recent terminal extension a couple of years ago which has a section referred to as the Restaurant. That section actually cost the city nothing, while resulting in space that is now available for aviation uses. Some city staff cited that as a case in which the Airport Commission had "overbuilt."
The author of the letter also pointed to our comparables, saying the only way Rice Lake is a Large airport is in its spending. Again, statements from people who do not know the facts can seem ominous to those who read them and who are also unfamiliar with the operation.
Rice Lake is often compared to other cities based on population. But there are other ways of comparing cities. In the case of airports, the state Bureau of Aeronautics has several categories. For General Aviation, they are Small, Medium and Large regardless of population of the community. Rather, it has to do with airport operations and physical facilities. Rice Lake is listed, along with 14 others, as Large. It is also one of three in the state listed as a Cargo Airport, which qualifies it to receive additional funding from the state. Primarily, that category has been made possible because of the cargo shipped in and out of Rice Lake by Rice Lake Weighing and United Parcel Service.
Because getting into and out of this airport is so vital to both, it is important that the runway is of ample length and kept open if at all possible. That has been possible because of modern runway lights, runway maintenance and top-notch navigational equipment. If UPS planes cannot land here, items must be trucked in, causing delays and added cost.
Several local businesses and industries are visited by representatives of their parent companies who fly in here in large jets and are on a tight schedule. And we should not forget the annual $18 million in economic benefit the airport means to the local economy, a figure provided by the state.
The money paid to the airport manager is not cash in his pocket by any stretch as hinted in the letter. There are certain bills at the airport, including utility bills for the terminal and repairs up to a certain level, that the manager has to pay from that fund under terms of his contract.
In 2012, The Rice Lake Airport had a cash reserve of $223,000. Funds from there can be, and have been in the past, transferred to the city general fund. But since they were generated by the Airport operations, most of that money should remain there in the event there is a request to help build a structure for a new airport business.

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