Subsidy For Local Airport Questioned By Legislators

A new proposal to have a 10% local share to subsidize the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport passed the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Facilities Committee on Monday. The full legislature will vote on the proposal Wednesday, June 26, in Mayville. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The newest proposal to bring commercial air service back to the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport through a local subsidy, to go along with federal funding, barely passed through a Chautauqua County Legislature committee.

On Monday, the Public Facilities Committee met with George Borrello, county executive, Ron Almeter, county airport manager, Mark Geise, Chautauqua County deputy executive for economic development, and Brad Bentley, county public facilities director, to discuss the latest proposal.

Almeter said when the federal Department of Transportation announced in February that it would not be restoring the Essential Air Service subsidy for commercial air service it was because it was perceived the last airline failed because there was no local support. He said the federal government wants the local county and business community to also invest in any future subsidy for commercial air service.

Almeter said the U.S. DOT would like a 10 % contribution to the annual $2,980,688 subsidy for three years. He said the resolution the Chautauqua County Legislature will vote on Wednesday, June 26, proposes the county would fund $72,000 in cash and $52,000 through in-kind services. He added county officials would also be asking the business community to fund $75,000 in cash and the rest of the $298,000 of the local share through in-kind services, which is not part of the resolution the legislature will vote on next week.

Borrello said, at this time, there is no contractual commitment made by the business community to subsidize the airport. However, he said during a March meeting with 43 businesses and U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, there was local interest in bringing back commercial air service to the airport. He said county officials are still finalizing on how the business community would financially support the airport, but it would be similar to someone buying season tickets for a minor league baseball team.

Borrello said an example of an in-kind service would be the DoubleTree by Hilton Jamestown running a shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport.

Borrello said people want to fly out of the airport, but believes poor service by the last commercial airliner, Southern Airways, is why passenger numbers dropped to the point where the U.S. DOT pulled the Essential Air Service subsidy in January 2018. He said Boutique Airways, the commercial airline service county officials have selected for its latest effort, would be offering a different package that could accommodate business travelers better.

Almeter said last November, Boutique Airways took over the commercial air service from Southern Airways at the Johnstown, Pa., airport, with the number of passengers increasing and meeting their contractual goals. He said by the end of July, county officials want a finalized plan in place with the business community. He said the goal is to file a new submission with the U.S. DOT to reauthorize Essential Air Service subsidy to the airport by the end of August.

After the county official’s presentation, the legislators on the committee all questioned why this new proposal will work now when ones in the past haven’t. Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, said he is concerned about the local subsidy being asked for by the U.S. DOT. He said the local community in recent years has not supported commercial air service out of the Jamestown airport.

Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, compared the attempts to have commercial air service at the airport to putting a square peg through a round hole. He said it seems the airport only caters to a few people.

“I’m not sure it can be fixed,” he said.

John Hemmer, R-Westfield and committee chairman, asked if this attempt fails to restore air service at the airport, will this be the last attempt. Borrello said he believes this will most likely be the last opportunity.

David Wilfong, R-Jamestown, said he will vote for it now to move the resolution out of committee to the full legislature, but might vote “No” next week. Hemmer and Nazzaro also made similar statements. The final vote was 3 to 2, with Scudder and Frank J. Gould, R-Ashville, voting “No.”