As the Journal
reported in March
, the division was facing a fiscal year-end deficit of more than $800,000. The aviation enterprise fund is expected to lose $350,000 per year until additional airline service is secured or other revenue sources are identified.
The board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed the County Administration Office to work with public works to arrange a $500,000 loan from the county’s motor pool fund to the Aviation enterprise fund to help cover the deficit.
But that recommendation came with an admonition from the CAO, expressing concerns about the ongoing structural deficit of the aviation enterprise fund:
“This is because enterprise funds are classified by accounting standards as ‘business-type activities’ and are supposed to stand on their own without the sort of short-term borrowing typical of the County's governmental funds. Currently there are sufficient monies in Aviation trust funds, which are considered part of the Aviation Enterprise system, to cover the short term cash needs. If these funds were not available proper procedure would call for another fund to loan money to Aviation pursuant to a written repayment schedule. As this fund continues to decline, the need for a loan is more pressing.”
Public works had also sought funding from Measure Z, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters last year, though it appears unlikely the division will receive any money from the measure.
included nearly $1.5 million over five years for aircraft rescue and firefighting preparation at the Eureka/Arcata Airport, including completion of a firefighting facility; $425,000 over five years to pay for a Transportation Security Administration-mandated sheriff’s deputy to patrol the airport; $84,000 to cut trees verging on airspace; and other programs. Aside from the deputy position, which has seen declining federal funding, it doesn’t appear any of the airport-related Measure Z requests would have covered operational costs.
But that likely doesn’t matter: The Measure Z Advisory committee released its recommendations
for the disbursement of those funds this week, and none of the airport requests made the list.
In other airport news, Crescent City’s airport recently signed a deal with Alaska-based PenAir to begin providing direct flights to Portland in September. Unlike Humboldt County’s speed-dating-esque search for additional air service, Del Norte County was awarded a U.S. Department of Transportation essential air service contract, meaning the feds identified a need and approved a $3.5 million dollar subsidy to fund the PenAir service.
That’s led to some speculation that PenAir may consider Humboldt County’s airport for a similar service.
Earlier this year, Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass told the Journal
, “There’s something in the works at Del Norte/Crescent city that [Aviation Division program manager Emily Jacobs] is aware of. She would be involved in saying a stop in Humboldt County would have its advantages if service is connected there.”
The Redding Searchlight
reported in April that PenAir was considering service in Redding, as well as Arcata/Eureka, Klamath Falls and Coos Bay/North Bend. A PenAir executive told the Searchlight
an announcement could come in early May.
Fly Humboldt, the public-private partnership seeking additional air service, shared a photo on Facebook
this week of Jacobs seated with a PenAir representative at a conference with the caption, “Presenting the argument on why they should Fly Humboldt!”
Jacobs declined to comment further on the negotiations. But she did express excitement about a larger, 70-seat jet that will depart Eureka/Arcata at 5:30 a.m. and arrive at 10 p.m. starting July 2 of this year. If those flights fill up, as the smaller 50-seaters have been recently, Jacobs anticipates more large jets with more frequent trips.
Finally, the FAA signed off on the former Eureka/Arcata Airport’s supervisor-approved new name. By the end of the year, residents and tourists will fly in and out of the "California Redwood Coast Humboldt County Airport.”
The county’s Aviation Division is likely to receive some temporary financial relief in the form of an intra-county loan, should the division’s dwindling trust funds be unable to support an ongoing structural deficit.