The Town of Wellsville Airport appears on its way to receiving a $50,000 contribution from Allegany County, NY, next year after county legislators again punted a decision as to whether it should provide funds without knowing financial need, if it should occur each year, and a determination as to its benefit to the entire county.
The Board of Legislators, acting as a Committee of the Whole yesterday, moved by an 11-to-1 vote to send a resolution to its regular board meeting next Wednesday to appropriate the funds from its nearly $9 million federal pandemic relief funds.
Legislator John Ricci of Cuba, a member of the county’s Industrial Development Agency, voted against the referral, with Board Chairman Philip Stockin and Legislators Dwight (Mike) Healy of Belmont and James Rumfelt of Andover absent for the vote.
The action came after close to an hour of discussion during a meeting to review next year’s tentative budget.
Former airport manager calls for funding
Legislator Gary Barnes of Wellsville, former airport manager who said that one of the reasons he ran for the county board was to help develop the airport, moved that a town request be approved for $50,000 annually to support its operation for next year.
He said the airport is an economic development tool for the whole county, although results are hard to measure, with the appropriation being a “drop in the bucket” in the county’s overall expenditures.
The majority of board members present appeared to indicate they felt the airport does provide an economic benefit to the county, but Legislator Jennifer Ricketts-Swales of Fillmore questioned the extent to which it benefits its northern geographic area.
She said there seems to be a focus on economic development in the southern part of the county but not in northern sectors.
There also seemed to be a consensus that trying to obtain financial information from the airport as to need and use has been difficult.
Legislator Dwight Fanton of Wellsville said he wouldn’t be in favor of the county providing money to enable the town to reduce its own contribution.
Prior budget requests
Budget and Ways and Means committees Chairman Brooke Harris of Alfred said the airport had requested $50,000 annually four years ago and was provided $100,000 upfront for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years. During the pandemic, the county declined to provide funds.
Philip Curran of Alfred Station said he believes “there is a sticking point here,” alleging there has been “no clarity as to where the money is going.”
Barnes refuted the statement, saying the airport has provided whatever information the county has requested, thereby drawing a retort from Curran that the airport should be providing the information to begin with.
Legislator Adam Cyr of Bolivar voiced the most pointed opposition to the funding, saying a company in his area left the airport because it found it to be poorly managed and now flies out of Brandford, Pa.
He also said the airport needs to be run like a business and be focused on making a profit.
Barnes said the departure of the company mentioned primarily was due to the airport not having rental car services available.
He also said that all small airports around the state are subsidized due to not having the travel volume to turn a profit.
Sketchy financial information obtained
Interim Economic Development Director Timothy Boyde said he has been trying to obtain information from the airport about its finances and only was able to locate on the internet a town budget for the current year 15 minutes before the meeting.
He said it shows $1.7 million in planned expenditures and $1.645 in revenue, with the shortfall being paid out of reserve funds.
The board should consider the airport as a tool for keeping business within the county, not primarily as a tool for attracting new business, Boyde said.
He reported that for the past 10 months he has been able to determine 28 charter flights have come into the airport which are related to existing businesses, with Saputo, L.C. Whitford and Otis being the primary users, along with 355 other landings.
The airport, during the past six years, has generated over a million gallons for fuel sales, he said, which provides sales tax revenue to the county.
Boyde also said he believes there needs to be a recognition that there are employees related to the companies which have executives who are able to fly in and out of the area on business, keeping the county attractive as a place to do business.
Barnes noted the airport doesn’t know all the aircraft which actually land and take off from the facility because it doesn’t have a manned tower.
Numbers and effective use plan needed
Legislator Gretchen Hanchett of Belmont, former director of the Greater Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, said it is important that the county obtain the numbers to enable decisions to be made in how the airport will operate effectively in coming years.
Barnes emphasized that the town isn’t interested in selling the airport to the county.
The Board then went back-and-forth on how to provide the $50,000 in funding, discussing adding the amount to the tentative budget, using money from a $7.5 million economic development set-aside established last fall and not used to date, or using money still remaining in this year’s contingent account.
Extended procedural actions
Barnes withdrew his original motion and made another to add funds to the tentative budget. This drew a fast negative reaction from Board members. Upon urging, he then made a motion to take the money from federal pandemic funds, which was approved.
Curran, during the vote, said he would support the funding since it was coming from the federal funds.
Legislator Cyr, provided a final shot: “Mr. Barnes, in good faith I am going to vote ‘yes.’ But this is something I’d like to task the airport and the representatives with. A year from now I’d like to hear how great they’re doing, how they’re moving forward and I would love to support this again.”
The Livestream of this morning’s Committee of the Whole meeting is available at http://bit.ly/3TMeYIO, with discussion about the equalization rates starting at approximately 5:25 minutes.
Photo: Legislator Barnes, center left, addresses county representative Adam Cyr’s statements during yesterday’s debate on Wellsville Airport funding. Legislator Steve Havey of Wellsville is at center right.
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