A report on what to do about the money-losing county airports is a welcome waft of crisp and fresh autumn air after a summer of heat and humidity.
Congratulations to members of the County Legislature's airport task force for their direct and firm recommendation to change the management of the airports.
With county taxpayers on the hook for about a million dollars a year in direct subsidies for the airports in Dunkirk and Jamestown, and with the county itself facing a multi-million budget deficit, something has to change. As important as the airports are to the county, they are proving to be an expense we simply cannot afford. However, shutting them down, we are told, would entail having to repay federal grants received in the past to build runways and make other improvements.
And so the task force was set up earlier this year to study what can be done about the deficits - short of closing the airports outright. The committee included Hugh Butler, a retired software company executive and president of the Chautauqua Property Owners Association; Dan Reininga, president and chief executive officer of Lake Shore Bancorp and Lake Shore Savings; and Scott Schang of Cummins Engine as well as legislators Chuck Nazzaro, a Democrat from Jamestown, and Larry Barmore, a Republican from Gerry.
Their clear-headed and pragmatic suggestion is turn over the management of airports to an outside entity - an Airport Authority, management company or perhaps the fixed-base operators.
Whatever shape the management agreement takes, there must be one person in charge of everything, the task force report states. That person would be paid according to airport financial performance and have total control over the airport budget, including the ability to carry a fund surplus from year to year in order to accumulate money for long-term planning.
The report was handed to the legislature's Public Facilities Committee on Monday. Legislators will take the next month to look at the report in detail and then talk with the county's attorneys about how the proposal might be implemented.
The task force members do not expect changes can be made in time to affect the county's 2012 budget and tax levy, so taxpayers will have to bear that $1 million cost for another year. They also don't know right now whether the entire airport deficit would be wiped out with a change of management structure.
But at last the legislature is being directed to a very specific avenue that leads away from business as usual and heads toward changing the way the county does business.
Well done, everyone.