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Airport Privatization Costs Less, But Not For Monroe County

Members of the Monroe County Aviation Board meet about privatizing the airport's control tower on March 19, 2013.

Monroe County Airport officials have begun telling private companies to prepare to submit bids to operate the airport’s tower.

At a meeting of the county aviation board Tuesday, airport manager Bruce Payton told the board the federal sequester will close the tower at the end of September, meaning it will need a private operator to re-open.

Currently it costs about $450,000 a year to operate the Monroe County Airport’s tower. But the county pays less than $100,000 of that.

Payton estimates a private company could operate it for a quarter-million dollars a year. The county would have to pay that full amount.

“What’s going to factor into it is how competitive these companies want to be when we give them the list of hours that we want to operate and our requirements here,” he says. “How competitive can they be as contractors?”

Monroe County Council President Geoff McKim points out the county’s budget isn’t even balanced, so finding more money for the airport would mean cuts to other line items. But he notes that it is not as though the county would have to find $250,000 in cuts.

“When he says a quarter of a million dollars, the current aviation general budget already includes $97,000 for the tower,” McKim says. “So it would not be a full additional quarter of a million dollars. It would be more like $150,000 dollars in addition.”

Payton says federal officials have told him airport towers are more likely to stay open if managers can show a nationwide detriment if those facilities are closed.

Payton says he will stress the airport’s connections with the Crane naval base and local pharmaceutical companies in his talks with the Federal Aviation Administration.

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