December 18, 2006

Officials weigh airport’s benefits to local economy


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Amy Jones, vice president of D.R Jones and Company Inc., speaks with airframes and powerplants mechanic Paul Petrella as he works on a small aircraft engine at the Cortland County airport Dec. 6. 

Staff Reporter

In recent months, with the county’s decision to fund more hangars at the Cortland County Airport, some residents and leaders have questioned whether the facility’s economic impact justifies the taxpayer-funded operation.
Virgil resident John Carroll criticized the decision at a Virgil Town Board meeting in October. “What we’re doing is supporting people who own aircraft and I don’t think taxpayers’ money should be used for that,” he said.
Dale Taylor, a Virgil Town Board member, called the airport not much more than a “playground for the rich” at Thursday night’s board meeting.
Numbers and anecdotes, however, indicate the airport on Groton Road contributes to the local economy more than it burdens taxpayers.
Economic impact
In 2000, the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board prepared a report on _the economic impact of Cortland’s airport.
The board is a public agency that studies public policy issues in Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties and works to help develop and implement plans that will enhance the region’s future.
Bob Buerkle, the Cortland County deputy superintendent of highways who manages the airport, said as far as he knows, no studies of the airport’s economic impact have been conducted since 2000, yet he believes the airport’s economic impact has been steady since then.
The regional planning board used a statistical model called RIMS-II for estimating the dollar value contributed to the area’s economy. RIMS II was developed for the state Department of Transportation.
The study concluded the airport had an annual economic impact of $2.7 million. That includes $424,200 from direct airport activity, $1.4 million from indirect airport activity and $847,800 from repeated direct and indirect expenditures in the area.
Taxpayer cost
Unlike commercial airports in Syracuse, Ithaca and Binghamton, with such carriers as Delta Air Lines, US Airways and American Airlines, Cortland’s airport is strictly a general aviation airport — an airport for individual owner/pilots and businesses with their own planes.
County taxpayers pay the airport’s operating cost, minus its revenues.
Buerkle said that this year, the taxpayers’ net cost is about $18,000 to operate the airport, basically the rough difference between its operating cost of $153,000 minus its revenue of $139,000 through mid-November of this year.
Construction soon will begin on a new T-hangar complex with 10 bays that will cost taxpayers $400,000. The money will be spent from the county fund balance in 2007.
Buerkle said 18 people are on the waiting list to rent the new T-hangar spaces. The county will charge $200 a month to rent each of the 10 bays.
The impact on businesses
For the last two years, Amy and David Jones, of Berkshire, have owned two businesses at the airport:
David R. Jones Aircraft Services, which repairs planes, and All About Flying Pilot Training Center.
Business demand has allowed them to hire six full-time employees and three part-time employees, Amy Jones said.
Customers come from close by and out of town alike, she said.
“We get 20 to 30 people from out of state weekly,” she said.
Tom Aubin, manager of Country Inn and Suites at 3707 State Route 281 in Cortlandville, said the hotel gets several customers each month from the airport.
“One guy recently came from Illinois,” he said. “He had a son with him and they were just flying around and landed. It got too foggy, so he stayed here for the night.”
Dan McNeil, owner of McNeil & Co., said his fire department insurance company probably would not operate in Cortland if the county had no airport.
“We’d probably move to Syracuse or Ithaca,” McNeil said.
That would translate into a loss of more than 100 jobs, according to the company.
McNeil said the company flies its plane in and out of Cortland’s airport every week to bring in clients and to conduct business in 48 different states.
The 2000 airport economic impact study weighed against the net taxpayer cost of running the airport indicates that Cortland’s airport brings more to the local economy than it burdens taxpayers.
Airport’s economic impact could be greater
Still, the airport could bring in more business than it currently does if more businesses and people from outside the county used and rented space at the airport, some say.
Tom Barts, director of sales for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, at 3917 State Route 281, said he gets business from the airport when people from outside the area fly in.
That’s especially the case if more out-of-town people flew into the airport, he said.
“People who need car rentals usually are flying from out of the state or at least out of the county,” he said.
At this point only about one or two such customers seek out the company’s services each month, he said.
Buerkle said the airport does not track where all of its users are from, but of the airport’s 36 based aircraft, 19 aircraft owners live outside of Cortland County. Of the 18 people _on the waiting list for the new _T-hangars, 10 live outside Cortland County.
Those people will pump even more money into Cortland’s economy, Buerkle said.
“There’s new money coming in,” he said.



Airport investment views differ among officials

Staff Reporter

The master plan for the Cortland County Airport, which was adopted by the county in 2005, recommends numerous investments for the facility over the next 20 years, including more T-hangar bays, more parking and additional apron pavement.
Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, said he believes those investments should be made.
“There’s a strong belief that tourism opportunities could be enhanced,” he said. “I’m going to depend on the experts who study this to make a determination.”
Legislative Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward), said investments to the airport will help Cortland attract business.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘They can land in Ithaca,’” she said. “Well you take the average person in this day and age. If you want to come into this community, they want to be able to come in and do their business and leave.”
Cortland Mayor Tom Gallagher agreed, saying he even supports the lengthening of the airport’s runway, which is not endorsed in the master plan. That would allow bigger planes to land at the airport.
“I really think they should look into that,” he said.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, said she does not support investing in the airport.
She said an economic impact study prepared by the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board overestimated some of the airport’s economic impact.
“I actually disagree with some of the findings,” said Hartsock, who has experience researching the economic impact of airports.
Hartsock said money would be better spent in local technology parks and airports in Ithaca and Syracuse that have a greater economic impact.
Ron Rocco, a Cortlandville town councilman, like Hartsock, questions the validity of the regional planning board’s economic impact study.
And even if the study is valid, he said, $2.7 million isn’t much money in the scheme of things.
“Quite frankly, I think that Wal-Mart does more business than that in a week,” he said.
Rocco said instead of an airport, the land should be developed for housing.
“The airport is prime property,” he said. “It could be developed into something that would provide revenue to the county, instead of taking federal dollars.”
Town Supervisor Dick Tupper agreed the land could be better used in other ways.
“Either housing or commercial development, either one would probably have more of an economic impact on the community,” he said.




Community Night livens holidays in McGraw

Staff Reporter

McGraw’s first Community Night gave village residents a chance to share some holiday spirit — along with some hot chocolate, cookies and hayrides — as they decorated a 12-foot Christmas tree with homemade ornaments
About 50 village residents turned out for the event Saturday, bearing pinecones decorated with glitter and ribbons, plastic foam balls painted with crayons and markers, and other homemade ornaments. A star made of cardboard and foil paper and sprinkled with gold glitter topped the tree in front of the Lamont Free Library.
“I am very happy with it,” said event coordinator Sally Sprouse, who approached the Village Board Dec. 5 with the idea. With the board’s approval, planning quickly came together.
McGraw Mayor Jay Cobb, Deputy Mayor Robert Freeman and village Trustee Allan Stauber were on hand to join in the festivities. Cobb plugged in the lights of the decorated Christmas tree.
“It was very good for the first year,” Cobb said. “It took 11 days to plan it.”
Residents were treated to hot chocolate and cookies made by community members. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Cortlandville donated the hot chocolate.
Helen Sherwood, of McGraw, made peanut butter, chocolate chip and sugar cookies for the event.
“This makes me feel good that the community has come together to do something positive for the children,” Sherwood said. “We had a wonderful response.”
Asia Stauber, 8, said her father helped her make her ornament out of plastic foam and a red pipe cleaner.
Asia said the best part of the day was the hayrides.
Billy Cash, 13, did not bring an ornament, but he enjoyed the cookies and the hot chocolate.
“It (McGraw Community Night) gives me something to do,” he said,
Taylor Conklin, 4, happily wearing a mustache of hot chocolate, pointed to her blue-and-green candy cane ornament.
“We don’t do too much with the community,” said Dora Conklin, Taylor’s mother, “but it seemed like a really good thing for the kids.”
It took Mackenzie Sherman, 11, 45 minutes to make her ornament. Her ornament was a glittered foam ball with red and purple paint.
Mackenzie said she enjoyed the hayride.
“It was fun singing,” Mackenzie said. She added that her favorite Christmas song, “Silent Night,” was sung on the hayride.
Ryan Kruezer’s ornament was a green pipe cleaner shaped into a Christmas tree with a plastic star at the top.
Ryan, 6, pointed to the spread of cookies and brownies as the best part of the day.
Village Clerk Sue McNeil said she helped her grandson Ryan make his ornament.
“I just thought it was a good thing for the community,” McNeil said of McGraw Community Night.
Sprouse said she is looking forward to McGraw Community Night becoming an annual event.