Butler County’s financially fragile airport Hogan Field may break even operationally this year, a first ever officials say.
For years Butler County commissioners have dipped into the county general fund — as much as $100,000 — to bail out the airport by paying its bills. The airport has also not been able to shoulder around $155,000 in debt payments.
For that reason, commissioners fired airport administrator Ron Davis last summer. He was making $93,710 annually, with benefits about $110,000. Commissioners said they would likely hire an outside contractor — to eliminate the cost for benefits — or someone part-time to manage the airport. They haven’t yet.
County Administrator Charlie Young said the airport still can’t cover its debt payments or local Federal Aviation Administration grant matches — like the $100,000 match for the $2 million apron project that is about to start — but this year the operational costs for utilities, maintenance, mowing, snow plowing — the budget for 2017 was $288,000 — should be covered by revenues.
“We do believe it would be reasonable for the airport to cover all its costs, including debt service at some point,” Young said. “From my perspective first we want to break even from the operating perspective and the next step would be to cover the local share of the ongoing capital requirements and ultimately for it to be completely self-supporting, we’re just trying to take it one step at a time.”
The county has asked their fixed case operator Cincinnati Jet Center — the outfit that runs the day-to-day operations — to take on some more responsibilities at the airport, but the bulk of the work — dealing with the FAA and aviators who use the field — has fallen to Development Director David Fehr.
Commissioner Don Dixon said they don’t feel any sense of real urgency to hire more help because “pretty much the bleeding has stopped at the airport as far as the budget goes.”
“David Fehr has stepped in and it’s just a new management style,” Dixon said. “He’s already on the payroll, he’s already working for the county, so in our opinion it’s running better than it ever has in a long time.”
Young said they do intend to hire someone part-time for the airport post at some point because they want a county employee there to interact with the tenants.
Part of the problem the commissioners had with Davis — he filed a civil lawsuit against the commissioners this week — was his inability to bolster the bottom line by bringing in new business or develop a master plan for the future.
Fehr said he is now in talks with some people who want to build a new hangar at the airport but he doesn’t have a signed deal yet. They have also started publishing a newsletter, because their tenants were asking to be better informed about what is going on there.
In addition to Fehr’s efforts the commissioners were also able — after learning late from Davis in 2014 that the FBO contract was expiring — to negotiate higher fees to boost revenues. Dixon said the airport is evolving.
“We’re constantly looking and David is looking for ways to improve the revenue stream at the airport…,” Dixon said. “We will be doing a new master plan, but it’s not something that has to be done immediately, the airport is stabilized.”
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