It gets little attention, but taxpayers subsidize the airport to the tune of $400,000 per year. For reference, the much-criticized golf course took 30 years to spend $1 million in taxpayer money: the airport spends $1 million in taxpayer money every 30 months. It’s true the golf course spent money not budgeted or levied, whereas the airport spends money which is budgeted and levied. But that’s a distinction without a difference. A million bucks is a million bucks no matter how you count it.
Few would question that having an airport benefits the local economy, but at what cost to taxpayers, and can we find more efficient ways to fund it, leaving openings in the budget for parks?
First, the cost to taxpayers. Of the $400,000 in annual taxpayer support, the city and the county each put up $200,000. Yet, because city taxpayers are also county taxpayers, they get double-dipped, such that the 7,600 city residents cover $220,000 of the airport support, or $29 per capita. (per capita costs are often used for discussion purposes over valuations). On the other hand, the 28,000 county residents that do not live in the city pay $180,000 of the airport support, or about $6 per capita. In valuation terms, city properties represent only nine percent of the total valuation in Oneida County, yet provide 54 percent of the airport subsidy.
Secondly, can the 40,000 passengers who fly in or out per year cover the $400,000 taxpayers currently subsidize ($10 per passenger would do it)? Many are business travelers or tourists paying hundreds of dollars to fly. Is there a legal way to add a $10 service fee per passenger and thereby eliminate taxpayer support for their travel?
Thirdly, is there a legal avenue and the political will to correct the formula between the city and the county? Can that 1970’s-era deal be renegotiated to have the county provide the taxpayer support? In that way, all Oneida County taxpayers – including city taxpayers – would share equally in providing the $400,000 subsidy.
And this is where city parks come in. If the county were to take over the $400,000 levy, it would cost roughly $11 per capita with all city and county residents paying equally (based on valuation). That would free up $160,000 per year from the city’s budget, which could go toward parks improvements.
It would be great if the Friends of Rhinelander Parks, many of whom live in the townships, could get behind their town leaders and county board members to support one or more of these options. And city residents could make support known to their county board members and alderpersons.
A million dollars of taxpayer money spent at the golf course over 30 years got attention. But we spend that much every 30 months to subsidize airport passengers. Let’s make some changes to airport financing and parlay those changes into improvements for our parks.
Dawn Rog, Rhinelander