This table, derived from a County report, shows that the Airport has cost the County money in 9 out of the last 10 years in operating expenses alone, leaving aside legal, staff, consulting, and other costs.
In a November Register-Star article, Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer claimed that the Columbia County airport “doesn’t cost the county.” Numerous other officials have been repeating this same unsubstatiated mantra—that the airport breaks even.
Unfortunately, the article did not offer any hard numbers to back up Supervisor Baer’s front-paged claim. And it did not quote any other officials or citizens who might offer a contrary or more nuanced point of view.
Far more unfortunately, it appears Baer’s position is starkly contradicted by financial facts buried in the County’s own records.
Numbers contained in a report circulated to Airport committee members at their last meeting reveal that the airport in Ghent has cost the public millions of dollars in capital expenses, and is also losing money in operating expenses.
Prepared by County Engineer David Robison and circulated by Econcomic Development chief Ken Flood, the report discloses on Page 3 that since 1966, Columbia County has paid a total of more than $1.3 million as its share of infrastructure grants for the airport. The State and Federal government has spent over $16.2 million on those same grant projects to improve and maintain the airport.
Those multimillion-dollar figures go back many years, and are not inflation-adjusted. Translated to today’s dollars, the public cost of keeping the airport running has been substantially higher. For example, the $74,000 spent by the County in 1987 would be over $152,000 today, according to this site.
Moreover, a table on Page 2 of the report shows that the County is also losing money on its lease with Richmor Aviation.
Over the past decade, the County’s operating expenses have trailed revenues from the contract with Richmor by about $153,000. (An annotated version of that table appears at the top of this article.)
During that same period, Richmor Aviation would appear to have profited mightily from its arrangement with the County, adding to some public impressions of a sweetheart deal. Court documents show that Richmor reaped millions from the leasing of jets to the C.I.A. for so-called “rendition” flights alone at the height of the Bush “war on terror.”
When the County renegotiated its contract with Richmor in 2007, it had estimated annual revenues from rent, hangars, tie-downs, fuel and landing fees at $85,600. But actual revenues have never reached that goal. The County has absorbed a loss in 9 out of the past 10 years. The Register-Star itself recently reported that:
Estimated revenues from T-hanger, tie-down, fuel, and landing fees were projected at $60,600 annually, with Richmor paying $25,000 a year in rent. But in the last five years, revenues have not matched expectations.
Baer further claimed that the airport’s “expenses are basically only snowplowing and landscaping.” He evidently was not including the reported $170,000 in consulting fees paid to C&S Engineering in Syracuse since 2012 alone, according to the Register. The Board of Supervisors also recently authorized $25,000 be allocated for anticipated legal fees related to preparing an eminent domain case against neighbor Carmen Nero.
Lastly, the official expense estimates also do not appear to include the hundreds or perhaps thousands hours of staff time among County employees, such as Robinson, Flood, and Dean Knox, to sustain the airport’s maintenance and funding. A review of documents obtained via a lawsuit against the County by Ghent residents Michael Schrom and Kevin Delahanty turned up tens of thousands of pages of documents. (The County had stonewalled citizens on providing such documents for much of the year.)
Yet the seemingly massive labor cost associated with the airport over its lifespan does not appear to be part of the official calculus.
“Does it cost the county money?” Baer had asked on the front page of the Register-Star article, answering his own question in the negative. But the tacit answer from the County’s own records looks like a big and definite Yes.