SARANAC LAKE - Both candidates for Harrietstown supervisor want to cut costs and boost revenue at the town-run facility.
The campaigns of Republican Bob Bevilacqua, a current town councilman, and Democrat Tom Catillaz, issued press releases Friday outlining their candidates' position on airport-related issues.
In recent months, the town board has been taking a hard look at how it is operating the airport in the wake of an embarrassing audit of the facility by the state Comptroller's Office and because the airport carried a $300,000 operating deficit last year. The deficit, which was due largely to a decline in fuel sales, was one of the factors behind a 9 percent increase in the townwide tax levy for 2012. The same problem fueled a double-digit tax levy hike two years ago.
Bevilacqua, in a release from campaign spokesman Keith Wells, said the economic downturn led to a loss of revenue at the airport, impacting the town budget. Nevertheless, he said he is fully supportive of the airport, calling it a significant economic engine for the town and the surrounding region.
"The operations of our regional airport, its ongoing maintenance and improvements work, and the services delivered, have created jobs throughout our community," he said.
Bevilacqua said he'd continue cost-cutting measures instituted by Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch earlier this year that he said have reduced expenses. Among other things, Hurwitch has postponed hiring an assistant manager and downgraded the airport's classification.
Bevilacqua also proposed a five-point plan to increase revenue. He said he wants to work with other communities around the region on a plan to share the airport's management and costs; develop an airport marketing plan; expand fuel sales and services to general aviation customers; work with airport management to allow additional flexibility in fuel pricing, including price-matching and volume discounts; and ask Franklin County to make airport fuel sales exempt from sales tax.
"Airport revenues very nearly reached being equal to expenses just before the economic recession. We were on a good track all by ourselves," Bevilacqua said. "I am confident that implementing this five-point plan will strengthen the financial position of the airport and insulate us from future downturns."
Catillaz called the airport a "vital" facility for the region.
"We must find all the ways we can to increase revenues and decrease expenses so Harrietstown taxpayers shoulder less financial responsibility as we keep it operating and prepared for growth," Catillaz said in a release from the Friends of Tom Catillaz.
Catillaz has a four point-plan for the airport. Noting that parking at the facility is currently free, Catillaz said he wants to charge fees for long-term parking. In Plattsburgh, the daily parking charge is between $5 and $7, he said.
"If we have 30 cars a day in the parking lot, we'd gross $55,000 a year in our coffers," Catillaz said.
Catillaz also said the town should offer long-term land leases to tenants wishing to build their own hangars on land near the ramp or at the town's adjacent business park. Hurwitch told the Enterprise the town is already doing that at the airport, but not at the business park.
Catillaz also suggested the village's Local Development Corporation could lease the land and building for sub-leasing to airplane owners.
Catillaz is also calling for cutting the cost of fuel at the airport to boost demand and potentially revenue. He said the price of one kind of fuel sold at the facility, 100 Low Lead, is the highest in the region.
"People rarely go to the highest-priced gas station to fill up their cars and if they do, they generally buy just enough to get to a cheaper place," Catillaz said. "We've got to market and let people know we are here to compete in the marketplace and not be known (as) the highest-priced retailer."
Catillaz also wants to sell more fuel to Cape Air, which provides commercial passenger air service at the airport but doesn't always refuel its planes in Lake Clear.
The fourth point of Catillaz's plan is to explore "regional" ways to reduce the costs of the airport on Harrietstown taxpayers.
"We may wish to see about privatizing the airport with assistance from the IDA and Franklin County," Catillaz said. "We should explore the 'Big Ideas' that include the creation of (a) Franklin County department taking over this airport and Malone's as well, so that the costs are distributed more broadly."