Monona Airport Board gets more time to improve airport’s financial situation

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

The Monona Airport Board has been given more time to improve the airport’s financial situation. The city council had originally given the board until Oct. 1 to submit a funding proposal before determining if the property should be put up for sale.

A potential buyer approached the city about purchasing the airport property, which is located three miles southeast of Monona, earlier in the summer. Declining revenue and a drop in use forced the council to seriously consider the idea.

The airport was designed to fund itself, but the account balance dropped 50 percent over the past year, from $8,811.19 to $4,815.70, according to Monona City Administrator Barb Collins. If that trend continues, by next year, it would be down to $0, she added. The city would then be faced with funding it.

The question, said Collins at the Oct. 5 council meeting, is “Why should the city keep the airport when it barely serves any of our population?”

The council, she said, could decide to shut it down and put the airport on the market or finish out the fiscal year, giving the board until the end of the budget year on June 30, then re-look at it. 

Councilman Andrew Meyer said he saw reasons both ways.

“If we sell it, we’ve got a lot of stuff that’s going to be coming up the next couple years that we could use the money for,” he said.

“But if it goes away, it’s never coming back. Then we’re out an airport,” noted councilman John Elledge.

Airport manager and board member Tim Walter agreed. 

“What happens if something comes into town and needs it later down the line?” he asked. “You can probably get a twin engine in there. We do have one of the longer runways, at 2,800 feet.”

The board, he added, has worked hard on a proposal to straighten out the airport’s financial situation. That includes raising hangar rent from $45 to $50 per month. There are currently eight planes there, although one will be leaving and two are for sale. The space can be rented for other vehicles, such as cars, as well.

Walter said the board would also like to charge ag planes $200 per day for using the airport, as some other airports do.  

“They use it quite a bit and do tear things up a bit too,” he stated.

He suggested putting up a sign letting pilots know to contact him or city hall to pay. Councilman Preston Landt said the city could install a camera system at the airport to track if users are paying.

In addition, the board proposes to do much of the airport maintenance itself, including mowing. There are also plans to bid out the hay rent.

Councilman Tim Wright said he was in favor of giving the airport board additional time “if they can cash flow it.”

“Based on this,” said Landt, “ it looks like that should be doable.”

The council approved giving the board until June, but Elledge said the pressure is on.

“It’s either going to work or it’s not,” he commented.

Lease would help company provide rural internet access

In other city business, the council approved water tower access and a lease agreement with NextLink that would help the Texas-based company provide internet access to rural Monona residents.

“Due to something called the Connect America Fund, the FCC went coast to coast and any areas that were underserved with internet, they provided funds to companies like us to bid on and provide internet to those rural areas. We’re moving up into Iowa to provide the rural areas with internet,” said NextLink representative Chase Allen at the meeting. “

“Talking with Barb, the internet here you’re very happy with, but because we have an obligation with the FCC, we’ll still be coming to the area,” he added. “We’re not coming in trying to run anyone out of town.”

By setting up on structures like water towers, NextLink can provide fixed wireless internet using radio waves transmitted by a cell tower.

“That helps us get to the market quicker, as opposed to calling landowners, leasing space and putting our own towers up,” Allen said, adding that there will be a minimal footprint and liability and insurance will fall on the company.

From the water tower, Allen said NextLink would be able to reach rural residents within a strong four-mile radius. That could be pushed to six miles depending on line of sight. Additional towers could be erected to reach residents who are farther away and struggling to get reliable internet access.

“We have 11 or 13 towers here that will be active shortly, and this will help us connect our network backbone,” Allen said.

NextLink hopes to have the water tower location up and running within the next couple months.

Rec trail receives REAP funding

At the meeting, the council approved accepting REAP grant funding for a proposed recreational trail extension from Gateway Park to the intersection of South Main and Spruce streets. The city originally requested $75,000 for the project, but Collins said it did not receive $10,500 of that amount. 

After cutting $40,000 off the project by not crossing two driveways—a move that would make them ADA compliant—and not constructing a retaining wall, the city’s portion of the project would be $51,000, she stated.

Although the project was not budgeted for this fiscal year, the city still has funds from the sale of Garden View that could be utilized. The city could also apply for additional grants or complete the project in the next fiscal year.

“They’d like us to do it by next year,” Collins said.

The council approved moving forward with the project, which it said will improve access to and from the Gateway Park playground and campsites.

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