Shooting oneself in the foot at the DeKalb airport

We’ve been talking about fuel sales at DeKalb’s airport recently.

This was in the context of DeKalb’s new marketing practice of deeply discounting fuel in order to bring in new customers, and perhaps reaching at some point the same successful level of sales of 2013, the good old days when net sales more than covered the wages of the airport line service technicians.

DeKalb residents, who have been waiting for generations for the airport to pay its own freight, are interested in this subject. For one thing, word is getting out that the city redirected some $260,000 in local motor fuel taxes into the airport budget to help erase its invariable red ink. We’d rather that revenue go toward street maintenance.

People also are unsure that city government should plan for a loss of public money in a gamble. DeKalb is prepared to lose up to $20,000 a year. A loss leader gambit should remain in the realm of private business, the reasoning goes.

There’s a real head-scratcher among these developments as well. During the November 16 budget meeting, where department/division heads proposed cuts to their respective budgets, the list for the airport included cutting line service hours from 10 to 8 hours a day to reduce labor expenses by $19,000.

Got that? The airport is supposedly going “all out” to gain customers by discounting fuel to the point of enduring a $20,000 annual loss, but then proposes to cut the operational hours for providing that fuel.

DeKalb’s airport fuel sales were better in 2013

City of DeKalb is extremely happy with airport fuel sales over the past few months, and according to the 2018 draft budget is estimating $416,000 in gross fuel sales for 2017.

However, the recent increase is due to deep discounting of fuel, and fuel sales were better in previous years.

Airport fuel sale data

The airport in DeKalb began selling fuel in FY11. I’m tracking FY12 through FY16 because the data are complete and actual (not projections or other estimates).

DeKalb actually peaked in fuel sales in FY13. After that they continued to lose ground, to the point where net sales were (are?) no longer covering the wages of the part-time employees who dispense the fuel.

I really don’t want to be a negative nelly. DeKalb has been sending some $270,000 of local motor fuel taxes to the airport for the last couple years; I’d like to see that money returned for allocation to street repairs and improvements, and that means I’m pulling for the airport to become self-sustaining.

But can that happen if we don’t understand the reason(s) for the loss of ground since 2013? What happens when the current discounts end?

Airport Operating Deficits

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for FY2014 is out. So far the document is only accessible as part of the December 8 council meeting agenda, but at some point will probably appear on the city’s downloads page under the Finance title.

Let’s stick a toe in by first visiting the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport (DTMA) annual operating deficits:

FY2006: $467,332
FY2007: $720,557
FY2008: $645,131
FY2009: $778,324
FY2010: $524,272
FY2011: $681,713
FY2012: $413,576
FY2013: $491,217
FY2014: $491,997

The city has to make up for the deficits using tax money that would otherwise go to general operations.


DTMA took on fuel sales a couple years ago, and all of its hangar space is rented out (PDF p. 143). I do not know whether the city has recently compared rental rates with other airports, but if not that might be a good next step to ensure that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing operations any more than they have to.

City Revenues from Corn Fest 2011

We need for DeKalb to collect, at minimum, about $30,000 in Corn Fest annual revenues on behalf of DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport (DTMA) because that’s what city administrators told the FAA it would do.

They also said they’d put these revenues, consisting of sales taxes and parking fees, directly into the airport fund instead of dumping them into the General Fund and making transfers. They have not yet made this change, so I requested the numbers through the Freedom of Information Act.

Make the jump to see how well we’ve done. Continue reading City Revenues from Corn Fest 2011

Corn Fest Financials Through 2010

ear of cornDeKalb Corn Fest was lucky to have funds in reserve when it moved from the downtown to DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport in 2008.

[table id=60 /]

Except for the “Lady Antebellum boost” in 2009, revenues have been trending downward. Revenues are no longer itemized on the tax forms, so we don’t know which categories have gotten hit.

The expense story is not so mysterious: expenses jumped with the move to the airport because site costs rose from $20,000 to $38,000.

It will be interesting to get last year’s numbers to see what effect, if any, the new parking fees had on the bottom line. You will recall that the City of DeKalb, not Corn Fest, benefits from the parking fees; nevertheless they could still affect attendance and spending.

Source: Foundation Center 990 Finder

Progress at the Airport

I decided to see if DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport has made progress in growing its non-governmental revenues now that it has added fuel sales and new tenants.

Below is a table showing the primary revenue category, rentals, along with the newbie, fuel sales. These are not the only non-governmental revenues, but the remainder combined don’t normally top $20,000.

[table id=58 /]

Hangar rentals seem to have recovered from a slump and, assuming the FY2012 estimate and FY2013 projection are accurate, rental income is now showing some growth.

Fuel sales are expected to net $43,750 this year. Will that kind of revenue take-off cover the compensation of the employees they’ve hired to pump fuel? Let’s look. Continue reading Progress at the Airport

Well. Finally.

The DeKalb City Council is getting close to approving a DeKalb-Taylor Municipal Airport (DTMA) Marketing Plan. (See here, starting on p. 5.) The proposal is a concise and informative 15 pages. I found the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) more direct and insightful than I think we would have gotten in-house, so maybe hiring Hopkins was a good move.

I do want to point out that the move to prod the city toward a marketing plan started right here at citybarbs in 2008. That was the year people such as myself made the airport an issue as a money pit at budget hearings. I also made it part of my mayoral campaign.

If you think it’s too much to claim credit for the idea, I challenge you to explain how the airport had gone so long without a plan, but after a bunch of residents made noise publicly it’s finally accomplished.

My main aim, though, is not to crow about it but to demonstrate that over the long haul it’s worth it to make the noise, credited or not. Sometimes it gets results.

More on Corn Fest & Parking Fees

Here’s a piece of an e-mail from an FAA official to the City of DeKalb about FAA requirements for holding Corn Fest at the airport, which DeKalb County Online got hold of in May:

Of particular importance is the amount of money received by the airport from the event. This MUST be some form of Fair Market Value revenue received from the event and put into the airport operations fund. Failure to do so could put the airport in noncompliance with its Grant Assurances. IDA/FAA may request proof of payment to ensure compliance. I would also add that a token sum of something like $500/day or $1,000/day for what appears to be a pretty big event is not considered Fair Market Value.

In early June, the FAA official recapped an agreement made during a meeting with the City of DeKalb:

– There will be a charge for parking for the event. A daily and/or weekend charge/fee was mentioned. Based on historical attendance figures, this could lead to revenue to the airport ranging between $30k to $50K. Also, you mentioned in the previous years’ events that the sales tax collected at the event went back into the airport budget. These two sources of income (if close to the estimated amount) would, in my opinion, be considered Fair Market Value for a 3-day event.

Then the Chronicle editorial said this*: Continue reading More on Corn Fest & Parking Fees

FY2012 Budget Questions Answered

If you watched the DeKalb City Council meeting last Monday, you know that I had prepared questions for the public hearing but was prohibited from asking them.

So I sent the questions to Laura Pisarcik, who was hired as the central purchasing person but who now seems to be acting as an assistant city manager, at least as concerns the budget. Emboldened answers are taken verbatim from response e-mail. Continue reading FY2012 Budget Questions Answered