Image: Montgomery County Airport Maintenance Director James Brown asked the Montgomery County Commissioners Court for a $153,450 runway cleaning truck in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 Budget. While Brown provided a well planned presentation, the members of the Commissioners Court continue to pour tax dollars into a money-losing airport operation which seems to impede local development far more than it aids it.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, March 29 – In lemming-like fashion, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court continues to throw millions of dollars into the Montgomery County Airport in north Conroe, as it impedes development, other than for government facilities and second-rate convenience stores. On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, without considering the enormous economic losses and disruptions taxpayers continue to suffer from the airport facility, the seemingly-mindless Commissioners Court looked very favorably upon a proposal to throw another $171,650 for a cleaning truck Airport Maintenance Director James Brown wants to spend.
The Airport’s presence also harms local real estate development, because residents don’t want to live near the noise from takeoffs and landings.
Meanwhile, County taxpayers are spending $1,140,377 in the County government’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget to subsidize the money-losing operation. Brown and his predecessor have promised for several years that the Airport would begin to break even “within a year.” To make matters worse for taxpayers, the Airport relies heavily on government grants exceeding $600,000 per year, which, of course, also come from taxpayers’ wallets. The Airport is 75-years-old and has never supported itself and has never provided any of the economic growth government leaders have promised.
The Airport has over one hundred thousand takesoffs and landing each year, a fifty percent increase since 2011, but ‘s still an enormous money loser for the taxpayers of Montgomery County. Now, to make matters worse, Brown has proposed a huge capital expenditure to weigh down the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget even more.
“Because of increase in traffic, we’re getting a lot more use of our runways,” Brown told the Commissioners Court members who seem to want to spend money as though they’re three-year-olds at a toy store. Brown explained that the runways require pressure washing, redoing the markings, inspections by the Federal Aviation Administration, and cleaning the runway to remove dirt, mold, and rubber.
“The contrast [on the runways] is a little dangerous,” Brown averred. He received an estimate of $153,450 to clean the runways, which would not include the taxiways or ramps.
Instead, Brown wants the Commissioners Court to purchase him a $171,650 cleaning truck, so the Airport Maintenance staff can do the runway, ramp, and taxiway cleaning themselves.
That request certainly makes sense in light of the cost of hiring an outside company to do the cleaning. But, unfortunately, the County Judge, Mark Keough, and four County Commissioners are too narrow-minded to examine why Montgomery County’s taxpayers must pay for a money-losing operation rather than leasing it out to a private company, which could attempt to turn the airport operation into profitability.
Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley noted, “The airport is certainly growing, especially with the customs facility.” The customs facility only has approximately 350 takeoffs and landings each year, according to Brown, which, of course, is a ridiculously low usage.
Rather than thinking, the Commissioners Court members just seem to want to throw money off of a cliff.
In response to a question from this newspaper about whether the Airport will ever be profitable, Airport Maintenance Director tried to sidestep the issue in this response:
“Thank you for your question. Unfortunately it is a tough question to answer, but hopefully the following information will help:
“The vast majority of the operational budget of the airport should be looked at more in line with what a public works department would be. We are mainly tasked with the infrastructure improvements/maintenance (runways/taxiways/lighting/etc.). This should be compared to the same manner as a road and bridge or public works depart who improves/maintains roadways, and traffic signal lights among other things within a county or city. Fortunately though, we do have some revenue streams that help to offset this cost, which are land lease fees, and fuel flowage fees. The County took a different approach to the development of the airport many years ago allowing private development of the hangar facilities, as well as FBO’s. What this did was create a much more fair and competitive atmosphere to spur development. These hangars are built by private individuals which allows the improvements to be added into the tax roll under a land lease agreement that is typically 40 years. During those 40 years the improvements are funding the tax dollars that are ultimately budgeted for the operation and maintenance of the airport (this is not calculated nor shown on a profit/loss statement and would likely show the airport to be self-sufficient if it were). Where we will start to see and operational change in positive revenue is when the land lease terms begin to expire. Upon expiration, the improvements will transfer into the ownership of Montgomery County. At that time the land lease revenue of the specific facilities will cease and the County (Airport) will negotiate a fair market value to then lease the facility to either the current tenant (they have right of first offer) or we would advertise it out and lease it to someone else. The difference in lease rates between the land lease and what the hangar, or facility would lease for are significantly different and revenues will increase exponentially at that time. With that being said, so too will the operational cost of the airport, due to the responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the hangars, although they would be priced accordingly so that revenues would outweigh expenses. We should start to see the land leases expiring beginning in about 8-10 years, but will not be an all at once occurrence due to the commencement dates of the lease agreements being staggered. I hope this information helps, and if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.
“I know many people believe that the airport is a waste of tax dollars, but in fact an airport like ours is a huge economic driver for the region and spurs a lot of growth in the job sector, as well as education not just on the airport but also in the community. If looked at from this prospective most will begin to see that with the taxes generated by the airport users through the hangars and facilities on the field to the aircraft themselves as well as lease and fuel revenue the airport does in fact sustain itself financially.”
Sadly, the Airport seems little more than a driver for convenience stores and government buildings in its locale. When the City of Conroe attempted to develop a commercial park near the Montgomery County Airport, literally no businesses had any interest for several years. Eventually, a nonprofit decided to purchase the entire disastrous development.