Pilots and non-pilots sparred over airport rates this week in a debate over who should pay for the airport ” taxpayers or airport users.
The Truckee Tahoe Airport Board heard arguments for and against raising fees at the airport at a sometimes-contentious public workshop Monday. Because the airport is supported by taxes from within the airport district as well as fees it charges for things like hangers and fuel, both taxpayers and pilots who pay those fees weighed in on the discussion.
Sides were effectively drawn between pilots and non-pilots, and the argument boiled down to one thing: public benefit.
If the airport provides a public benefit, like a public library or park does, it should be supported by taxes, some argued; but others contended that if the majority of the local population doesn’t benefit from the airport, the pilots who do should pay more.
Monday’s meeting didn’t include any board deliberation or decision, which is scheduled for the April 26 board meeting.
The pilots suggested that some support from taxpayers is appropriate for a facility that provides a public service.
Craig Fox, a pilot, said that so few people fly because it is already expensive to do, so raising rates would further dissuade new pilots from learning to fly.
“Anybody who can cobble up the money to come here can learn to fly,” Fox said. “I think it’s great we can subsidize it a little bit.”
Michael Golden, a former airport director, said the airport benefits the entire community, and raising rates would mean the airport would only cater to “rich kids and their toys,” a perception some in the community already have of the airport.
Robert Todd, a pilot and owner of Todd Aero at the airport, said like any other public facility, the airport is open for anybody to use.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to the park and rec. district, but I have the opportunity to do so,” Todd said. “Everybody has the opportunity to come to the airport.”
Another pilot, Rick Tavan, said he spoke to 150 local pilots about the possibility of raising hanger rents.
In his talks with those pilots, Tavan said he found that a 17 percent increase in hanger rent was the “pain threshold” for many pilots, which he argued would also meet the airport’s needs. The current monthly rate is 18 cents per square foot.
Those speaking on behalf of residents who do not use the airport argued that the airport didn’t provide the same level of benefit as other public institutions, and those who never use the airport shouldn’t be paying for it.
Andrew Terry said while pilots argue that raising rates is unfair, making the public subsidize pilots is also unfair.
“Taxes should only subsidize public benefit,” Terry said. “Subsidizing gas is an outrage.”
He also said that rates should be different for locals, who already pay taxes that support the airport.
Bryan Devoe said when Truckee is trying to establish affordable housing, it wouldn’t make sense to charge affordable housing tenants more taxes for the airport.
“Why would we increase taxes on low-income housing to subsidize an airport they will never use?” Devoe said.
John Eaton suggested that capital improvement projects should be covered by taxes, while operational costs should be supported by fees collected by the airport on things like hangers and fuel.
“Don’t put any more burden on people who don’t fly,” Eaton said.
A study on changing rates for the airport, prepared for the airport by the Aviation Management Consulting Group, explored the airport’s current rates and compared them to similar airports.
The report concluded that “current rates and charges have been established at a level that appears well below cost recovery… as well as market rates.”
When looking at comparable airports, hanger rental fees at the Truckee Tahoe airport is “well below market,” according to the analysis.
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