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Citizens want airport audit

By Staff | Feb 21, 2011

Jeremy Germann

The Wells City Council took no action on a request calling for an audit of the municipal airport’s financial books.

On Monday night, resident Milt Peterson presented a petition with 15 signatures asking the council for full disclosure of the airport’s revenue and expenses for last year.

At issue is whether a private business — Wells Aviation — located at the airport is being subsidized by taxpayers.

“We’re losing money out there and state aid is getting cut. Yet, we pour money into the airport. It’s got to stop,” says Peterson. “What benefit are the taxpayers getting?”

Figures provided to the council show the airport had an operating loss of nearly $3,000 last year.

City Administrator Jeremy Germann says some of the revenue and expenses at the airport are difficult to calculate.

“I’m not going to say they are going to be completely accurate, and they can be interpreted different ways,” he says.

Germann says cropland rental received from nearly 16 acres at the airport are not counted as income. If it were, instead of losing $3,000 a year the airport would be in the black nearly $2,000.

Germann says the contractor who mows city property also takes care of the airport. So, it’s hard to determined how much of the cost is associated with Wells Aviation.

Mayor Ron Gaines believes the airport is more of an asset to the city than a liability. He says it’s just as important as having good streets, a swimming pool or golf course.

“Even though I don’t use the airport personally, I don’t see what the issue is,” he says, adding that local businesses use the facility.

Gaines suggested the audit could cost $10,000 and he wasn’t in favor of spending that much.

Peterson told the council he might get more signatures, this time it would be to close the airport.

“We just can’t turn off the lights and walk away. It’s not that simple,” says Germann.

Airport commission member Mark Schmitz was in attendance and answered questions from the council.

Schmitz says the commission’s three members — himself, John Thisius and Ray Yokiel — oversee long-term planning of the airport.

He says the owners of Wells Aviation — Ken Eckhardt and Thisius — have their own meters for water and electricity and pay their own bills.

The city itself does not own any of the hangars or buildings located at the airport. It collects $700 annually in rental fees from the three hangars, one which is used by Wells Aviation.

“Our goal is to try and make the airport the most efficient and least costly operation it can be. I think we are doing a pretty good job,” Schmitz says.

In other airport business, the council at the recommendation of the airport commission voted not to accept a $50,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s aviation division.

The money would have been spent to purchase a tractor/loader with a mower attachment.

Because the equipment could only be used at the airport and any costs such as labor fuel or repairs would be the city’s expense, council members decided not to take the grant.

Schmitz updated the council on an airport layout plan currently being conducted.

The city has received a grant of up to $30,000 to do the study and is responsible for paying 20 percent of the cost.

The plan would determine where buildings and hangars could be placed in relation to the runway.

It’s been at least 20 years since the last plan was done and Schmitz says it should be completed by summer.