Butler County commissioners want action at regional airport

Butler County budget hearings are turning out to be a testy time for Hogan Field Manager Ron Davis, as the commissioners once again voiced extreme displeasure with the lack of a plan to boost revenues.

Davis and his boss Randy Quisenberry, the asset director for the county, were on the hot seat Monday after Davis began discussing possibly applying for almost $2 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants to continue repaving work. Their budget hearing was moved up a week so Davis didn’t have a chance to meet with FAA officials in Detroit prior to the hearing as he intended.

“Well I’ve heard about how you’re going to spend the money,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Now tell me what you’re going to make it.”

Last year the commissioners were upset to learn the contract with fixed base operator Cincinnati Jet Center was expiring at the end of the year and they hadn’t been informed, leaving little time to seek another operator if they so chose. As it turns out the county was able to seal a good deal with Cincinnati Jet earlier this summer.

The amended contract with Cincinnati Jet includes a $3,105 rent increase with an automatic 2 percent — or equal to the consumer price index whichever is higher — increase, bringing the total up to $33,407. The fuel fees paid to the county will go from 8 cents to 12 cents, with two, 2-cent hikes in subsequent years.

The contract also calls for Cincinnati Jet to implement a business plan that includes “viable plans for the FBO’s future operation, growth and expansion” for the airport. The commissioners have long lamented the airport is not self-sustaining.

According to the study the county commissioned, it cost $257,133 to run the airport last year, and revenues from the leases, gas and other sources came in at $259,843. This year revenues were only expected to top expenses by $9,277 but that does not include the $154,912 debt service payment.

Dixon told Davis the new FBO agreement is “old news” and asked what his plan is to raise revenues.

“Just pressuring the FBO to try to get more aircraft flying in there, purchasing fuel,” Davis said. “And trying to convince them that we need a hangar constructed behind the terminal building. Hopefully we’ll be able to entice other developers out there, other corporations out there to increase the fuel flow. That’s the major thing I have on the burner to try and increase it.”

County officials made overtures last year to the major jurisdictions, asking if they would be willing to chip in cash to help come up with the 10 percent FAA grant match. The commissioners quickly squelched that plan saying they had to get a clearer handle on finances at the airport.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers, who has been very involved with the airport, said they need to take advantage of the contacts that were made with other jurisdictions.

“When we were talking to these other jurisdictions about finding what people thought about the airport, they all went to their business partners and asked them and they were shocked to hear that almost to a man that the businesses said ‘well of course we think the airport’s a value,’” Rogers said. “Alright so if you’ve got that awareness out there and the perception, you need to capitalize on that while the iron’s hot.”

Revenues for the airport were projected to be about $16,000 higher next year under the new FBO contract and with $116,993 penciled in for a state grant for new lighting, the total came to $395,343 against expenditures of $391,036. Finance Director Tawana Keels suggested as revenues increase some of the money could go toward the $156,000 annual debt obligation and to start paying back the $209,000 that the county has advanced the airport from the general fund over the years.

Dixon said he wants to see major initiatives over the next year.

“Here’s the deal from my perspective,” Dixon said. “We started with the new contract and we set the tone. It’s up to you, you’ve got 12 months. And if this thing (the budget) comes back in here looking the same as it does right now, I consider it a failure.”

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