Dunsmuir to seek grants for airport projects

Lauren Steinheimer
Carol Ford of Ford Aviation Consultants presented Dunsmuir City Council with information regarding FAA grants for Mott Airport at the regular meeting on Thursday, July 7. By Lauren Steinheimer

After much discussion and debate, Dunsmuir City Council voted 4 to 1 to move forward in pursuit of $350,000 in grants for funding two projects at the airport: an updated layout plan and a pavement maintenance study.

The vote passed during the council's meeting July 7 with council members Bryce Craig, Dave Keisler, Bruce Deutsch and Mayor Josh Spurlock in support and council member Mari Shanta opposed.

Carol Ford of Ford Aviation Consultants presented council with information regarding work that needs to be done in order for Mott Airport to come into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Ford explained that airports such as the one in Dunsmuir are entitled to receive approximately $150,000 per year. However, the FAA provides only 90% of the full grant amount, while the remaining 10% is split among the California Department of Transportation and the city receiving the grant.

So, the City of Dunsmuir has to contribute 5% of the total grant amount.

“If you don’t use that money this year, it will be lost,” Ford said.

Ford said the city is eligible for additional grant funding this year, coming to a total of $350,000. “And if you refuse that money this year, it won’t look good,” she warned.

Dunsmuir’s 5% responsibility for the $350,000 in grants is $17,500.

After hearing her presentation, council member Bryce Craig asked Ford to explain what would happen if the city decided to simply abandon the airport.

Ford said the city would need to pay back the grant money it’s been accepting from the FAA over the years because acceptance of that funding comes with a commitment to maintain the airport for at least 20 years after the grant is received. “And besides,” she said, “you’ve already done that and it didn’t go over very well.”

In public comment, city treasurer Mario Rubino spoke of the financial difficulties surrounding Mott Airport from back when he was a city council member several years ago. Rubino warned the airport enterprise fund didn’t have enough revenue to support 5% grant matching. He said the airport budget has been in deficit year after year and without a clear business plan, there’s no reason to believe grant match funding will exist in the future.

Shanta expressed concern over the grant matching required by the city to receive FAA funding, saying it would be hard to justify such expenditures to the people of Dunsmuir, who don’t use the airport.

“I would rather face what it is we need to do right now, and we have lots of problems that need to be addressed,” Shanta said. She added the city doesn’t have the funds to make major improvements or get the FAA involved again, claiming that raising rental fees wouldn’t even bring in enough revenue to make the airport viable.

Craig spoke on both sides of the argument, pointing out that, even if the city decided not to pursue the grants, it still needs to pay Carol Ford $15,000 in consulting fees. If they do get the grants and match 5%, the consulting fees are eligible for reimbursement. The difference between just paying $15,000 in consulting fees versus paying the grant match of $17,500 to have the fees reimbursed is only $2,500.

“Just that piece alone is not that big of a difference,” Craig said, “and at least we will have gotten an improved and updated airport plan and the studies done for the runway.”

Craig said he agreed with Shanta in that, “Going down that road just leads to a bunch more obligations for the city, and I don’t see a very clear plan to get the revenues out of that fund to get the matches moving forward.”

Council member Bruce Deutsch said Craig was “making it sound like a drug, and it’s not a drug.” He said the airport would help attract people to move to Dunsmuir and asked for a year to come up with solutions for increasing revenue.

“We’re a government, not a business,” Deutsch said. “We have certain responsibilities – one of them is to keep this airport open and to keep it compliant.” He finished by asking, “What kind of council do we want to be?”

Craig answered, “We want to be the kind of council that balances that vision with the reality of the enterprise fund.”