OTTUMWA — Schuyler Black talked about what the Ottumwa Regional Airport used to be, what it is, and what he hopes it doesn't become.
"My father, Steve Black, had the fixed-base operator contract from 1984-2016 (with Ottumwa Flying Service). My family's business provided fuel, oil, maintenance, full-time mechanic, flight instruction, three rental airplanes, charter service and more," said Black, addressing the Ottumwa City Council during Tuesday's first meeting of 2021.
"ArchAngel, which currently holds the contract, is providing a glorified gas station," he said. "As I said it would five years ago, when some of you voted to void our contract in favor of ArchAngel."
Black spoke to the city as it was considering whether to reject the sole proposal it had received for an FBO to replace ArchAngel, whose contract expires next month. While the council unanimously rejected the proposal on its face at the recommendation of city administrator Philip Rath, it also voted to resubmit a new request-for-proposal after hearing from Jeff Jorgenson, who authored the original proposal to the city. Jorgenson is a certified flight instructor who has used the airport frequently.
Rath said the Jorgenson proposal was about $75,000 per month, and laid out some of the duties including aircraft rental, charter service, fuel, snow removal, flight instruction and other services that were requested. Any contract would be valid for an initial five-year period with an option for a five-year renewal.
"I love Ottumwa and I want to help," he said. "The RFP seemed a little ambiguous, and there were some line items that I felt could be negotiated. My goal was not to fleece the city of money. This was a responsible bid to try to make sure I was providing the correct service to do what the city was asking."
Rath said the airport advisory board had already recommended the proposal for rejection, so he brought forth another possible solution to the council, which mayor Tom Lazio also endorsed: issuing a request-for-proposal based on the qualifications of the potential vendor, and asking that vendor to provide a scope of work with the airport that will help promote it, without being "locked in." In a sense, making the proposal "negotiable."
Black, who now lives in Des Moines, said an airport like Ottumwa's should offer a wide array of services, and cautioned the council against passing a "watering down" a proposal.
Councilman Matt Dalbey said the services are offered should come down to reality versus a wish list.
"I agree with Phil in that we maybe need to pull back and see what we need, not so much what we want," he said. "We simply have to do what we can afford and not fund something too big for our needs. I think we can get a better view if we resubmit, having them tell us what we need and what it would cost, and get a better view of what we can afford."
Airport manager Chris Cobler said the airport is self-sufficient, that it doesn't use city tax dollars. However, the airport budget is about $400,000 per year, he said, and the yearly cost for Jorgenson's proposal would run about $900,000 a year.
"The FBO pays the city rent for the hangars, pays us so many cents per gallon of gas," Cobler said. "We make revenue from the FBO, but we don't have enough funds at the airport to sustain that."
Lazio mentioned that four pilots sit on the airport advisory board, and said it would be important to listen to them.
"I put a lot of faith in them. They fly all over the country and give us more feedback than we received five years ago," he said. "If we can sit down with them and some current providers, such as Mr. Jorgenson, and come up with a new approach, I think we can make this good for our provider and good for the city.
"I think we have a common goal of making the airport much more attractive, and a resource for economic development."
In other business:
• After multiple posts on social media, Rath addressed the confusion regarding snow-removal procedures in the city.
"Our staff is actively out there plowing the streets. We had unusual weather with eight hours of snow, then rain and ice," he said. "We're clearing the streets as best and as quickly as we can."
Rath said crews are working two 12-hour shifts, with priority going toward emergency snow routes, medical areas and main streets. After that, collector streets and arterial streets are cleaned, followed by residential streets. Finally, alleys are cleaned after a 6-inch snowfall.
The city has 320-lane miles and 57 miles of alley, Rath said.
Councilman Skip Stevens, who used to work for the city, also said sand and salt can't treat the modified streets downtown, noting that sand plugs the area between bricks, and salt kills the trees after it melts and mixes with water.
"I've had people ask why we can't put down sand and salt, and it's because we can't," he said.