Village Board looks for metrics to gauge success

By Tracy Ouellette

SLN STAFF

The East Troy Village Board had asked the Municipal Airport Manager Walter Watkins to the Feb. 18 board meeting to give a quarterly report on the status of the airport and answer some questions about fuel sales.

The village contracts with Watkins and his company, Aviation Services LLC, to manage the airfield as the airport fixed base operator, or FBO. Watkins also manages the airports fuel farm. Watkins is paid $32,000 a year.

The board had reviewed the 2018 Fuel Flowage Report at the Jan. 21 meeting and the members had questions as to why fuel sales were down and how the East Troy sales compared to other area airports such as Burlington, that couldn’t be answered by Department of Public Works Director Jason Equitz.

Village Board President Scott Seager directed Equitz to let Watkins know that board wanted him to present a quarterly report at the Feb. 18 meeting, which is something that is in Watkins’ contract, but has not been done with any regularity.

When Watkins addressed the board, he tried to answer the board members questions about the lower fuel sales and the fact that the village is not breaking even, telling them that fuel sales are a “loss leader” for many airports, including Burlington, which charges almost a $1 less per gallon than East Troy.

He added that the Burlington airport was selling fuel “at cost” because they had “looked at the broader picture” of what having an airport means to a community.

Watkins said that the success of an airport is not gauged by something like fuel sales, but by the overall economic impact of the airport. He said an economic impact study completed by Walworth County on the local airports was a “comprehensive” examination on the total benefit to the community.

Trustee Al Boyes voiced concerns about explaining to taxpayers that the airport was “successful” when the numbers from fuel sales show an annual loss of about $13,000.

Watkins again referred the board to the county study, saying that was how to show the airport was contributing to the local economy.

Trustee Matt Johnson said he thought the board was getting “hung up” on the fuel farm numbers because it was the only metric they had to gauge whether the airport was doing well. He added that he was reluctant to give much credit to the county’s economic impact study, because those types of studies were “notoriously inaccurate.”

“We have to have some way to measure (the airport’s success),” Johnson said.

Watkins spoke on ways to improve some things, and offered suggestions in some areas, like extending the runways to accommodate larger planes or possibly building a new FBO building, but said he was struggling with unmaintained buildings at the airport, which the village owned, and other maintenance issues and what he perceived as a lack of support from the village.

Trustee John Jacoby, who is the village representative on the Airport Advisory Committee, said he would like to see Watkins take a more active role in bringing issues at the airport to the village board and ideas on how to improve the facilities and that was what the village paid him for. Jacoby added that even though he was on the airport committee, he felt that the airport wanted to be a separate entity from the village at times and run their own show.

“This board is almost two years strong and strongly communicative; all departments are firing on all cylinders and this disconnect makes the airport stand out,” Jacoby said.

Seager put an end to the discussion at that point, saying he wanted to see Watkins back at the April 1 meeting to give the next quarterly report and in the meantime, he would send Watkins an email detailing the information and questions the board wanted answered well in advance. He also asked Watkins to list the maintenance issues for the board’s next meeting.

“We’re kind of bombarding you with questions you weren’t prepared to answer,” Seager said.

Watkins said he would be happy to research some of the questions asked, but did say he had done so in the past and often came up empty handed.

 
 

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