A staff presentation on the future of the Oakdale Airport highlighted the Monday, March 18 Oakdale City Council meeting.
In a joint report by the airport ad-hoc committee and Operations Manager Chuck Deschenes along with Engineering Technician Michael Renfrow, a review of the airport systems, facilities, and the rate structure for hangar leases was presented for council direction. The project recommendation also called for a proposal to be put out for a fixed base operator (FBO).
Deschenes informed the council that the airport was in need of upgrades with the vision to increase airport activity, enhance revenue streams, and continue to be self-sufficient and competitive.
The majority of the discussion was regarding the current hangar rental fees and lease rates and the need for a cost increase, as the fees have remained stagnant for many years, falling behind the prevailing area charge.
Deschenes pointed out that in the report there was a deviation in the recommended set fee by the ad-hoc committee members and staff, with city staff calling for higher recommended rates.
Currently, city hangars are billed at $180 a month, $55 a month for private hangars, and $90 a month for the larger EAA hangars. The two commercial hangars totaling 15,500 sq. ft. with office space bill $2835 a month and the two commercial only hangars with 9350 sq. ft draw $565 a month.
Deschenes requested at least a 10-percent increase in hangar leases. The ad-hoc committee proposed less, with no increase to EAA and city hangars.
The ad-hoc committee, formed after the problem-ridden, conflicted Oakdale Airport Commission was dissolved, includes current tenants and members of the facility’s Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) which may have influenced keeping lower rates in place.
“I recommend implementing these rates as soon as possible,” said Deschenes. “We’re losing money by not getting these rates in place.”
Mayor Pat Paul asked if all the hangars were being used for aviation purposes.
“For some, it’s a very inexpensive storage facility,” said Paul.
Deschenes stated that the new leases would address that topic and with the implementation of a FBO, there would be better monitoring.
Bill Bradford, vocal on many airport issues, addressed the council inquiring why the proposed rates were so diverse. He stated that some of the charges were discriminating, favoring some and disfavoring others.
Bradford said his figures showed square footage charges were only 1.3 cents charged to EAA, five cents for private hangars, and 19 cents for city hangars.
“Way too little is being charged for this airport,” said Bradford, advising that a five cent per square foot flat rate for all would be a better and fairer option. He also mentioned that the commercial rates could be much higher as Modesto and Reno airports were charging as much as 50 cents per sq. ft., suggesting 30 cents for Donnelly Field.
“Hangars are full and people are looking for hangars,” said Bradford. “Before making a decision, reconsider the rates. Offer a standard rate with pay for what you use.”
Deschenes complimented Bradford’s work, but said once a full service FBO was brought into place, they could do the research.
Ron Treadway, head of the ad-hoc committee, said existing market place rates for similar facilities were used for the committee’s recommendations.
Treadway also said 90 percent of the activity at the airport was EAA related and the organization had made a number of improvements to the facility. He said EAA should receive a “quid pro quo” for their involvement.
Councilman Mike Brennan, liaison to the committee and longtime proponent for airport development, said once a FBO was in place the hangar space would be more valuable.
Brennan acknowledged that there was only a $7000 per year gap between the ad-hoc committee’s proposed rates and staff’s proposals and suggested going with the higher staff recommendation.
Councilman Farrell Jackson asked if anyone from EAA was present in the audience to provide input.
No one from EAA came forward, though it is unknown if anyone from the group was present.
Brennan also said a rate hike would provide funds for the airport to continue to be self-sufficient and have funds available for matching fund grants in the future.
“We’re letting some leasers get away with a sweet deal,” said Brennan. “They’re sitting back and not saying anything.”
Councilman Tom Dunlop asked that since some negotiations were going to happen with current leases, why higher rates weren’t recommended for opening amounts.
“If we’re going to negotiate, why are we going in with our bottom line?” Dunlop asked.
Paul also agreed that the rates should be higher.
The council voted 4-1 to raise the hangar leases to the staff recommended rates.
Dunlop, the dissenting vote, said after the meeting that he recommended against the proposal because he felt the rates should be higher than what staff was recommending. He also felt there was a conflict in the commission members having the input on the rate recommendations.
“This may be a time when Bill Bradford is right,” Dunlop said after the meeting. “The people that are benefitting are the ones setting the rates.”