Airport running up against borrowing limit
Blaine city council hastily approved a loan to the from the city general fund reserves to the airport, strapped for cash and facing mounting financial demands as the city proceeds to try and buy land and trees at the south end of the runway.
There was no discussion of the latest $200,000 loan to the airport when council members approved it in regular session at their March 28 meeting, but an earlier executive session on the topic delayed the start of that meeting by a quarter hour.
City manager Gary Tomsic said the city was reaching the limit of borrowing the airport could conceivably pay back. So far the city has borrowed $200,000 on the airport’s behalf, and loaned $34,000 from the general fund reserves. Tomsic said a $70,000 grant from the state department of transportation’s aviation division and a recently approved additional $100,000 grant would defray some of the costs, but not all. “The revenue they anticipate using to repay the debt is typical revenues from fuel, leases, that the airport generates.” Tomsic said. “It’s sufficient to pay back what we’ve done to date. If you add to that it becomes a real problem.”
A February 10 Whatcom County Superior Court decision directed the city to pay Robert Carruthers $375,000 for his property abutting the airport, and $28,000 for the timber removed from the land. Other costs including legal fees will bump the total to over half a million dollars to remove some of the trees encroaching on the flight path.
Further condemnation proceedings against Eugene Klein, owner of a neighboring property, to acquire an aviation easement will keep the total climbing and could challenge the airport’s ability to pay. “As we move through Klein and we have another award – it could be $250,000, it could be a million, his appraisal approaches that – the airport wouldn’t be able to repay that. That’s the dilemma we have right now,” Tomsic said.
One option the city is looking at is putting on the brakes until the airport master plan is complete. “If it’s likely it recommends extending the runway south and we need to buy the land, why pay for it twice?” Tomsic said. With the master plan complete Tomsic said the Federal Aviation Administration would pay for most airport improvements including the land to extend the runway.
Speaking from the audience, Don Scherck asked council to shut the tap. “There’s very little activity there. Ten planes are presently tied down. It’s not a big money maker,” he said. “Why have we spent $600,000 for 10 planes? That money would be much better spent on infrastructure, improving our water supply, fixing our sewer problems.”
He suggested the city should close the airport and make the land available to other development. “I hope this council will stand up and finally say ‘enough,’” Scherck said.