November 29, 2023

Brockton council votes for sale of Saugeen Municipal Airport

Jon Robinson

— By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times (Photo: Pauline Kerr,  The Walkerton Herald Times)

It all came down to money – whether Brockton councillors felt the Saugeen Municipal Airport was providing taxpayers with good value for their money.

They decided it was not.

Brockton council has decided in favour of option one – sale of Saugeen Municipal Airport (SMA).

The decision followed a report at the Nov. 14 council meeting, during which two options were presented. The second option was to propose a revised cost sharing formula.

The decision confirms Brockton’s preference for asking the municipalities of West Grey and Hanover to proceed with a sale, splitting proceeds according to the cost-sharing agreement currently in place. The report stated, “The proposal would be to secure a buyer that would continue to operate an airport from the lands to support the existing uses, especially the medical flights.”

The report touched on the possibility of a use other than as an airport, noting, “Alternate uses of the SMA property may be limited by the zoning and also by the servicing. There are no municipal sanitary sewers.”

Option two stipulated an updated cost sharing formula and noted “Brockton should be prepared to increase the SMA budgets over the next few years to support the creation of a reserve fund and to support the strategic initiatives that will establish the SMA as a financially self-sufficient regional airport.”

Coun. Greg McLean commented that as stated in the report, the airport “is not on track to meet its budget shortfall.”

Coun. Kym Hutcheon took it a step further, saying that the “promised spinoffs” from the airport have not happened; the airport should be operated privately, not as a municipally-owned facility.

The only council member to speak strongly in favour of retaining the airport was Coun. Tim Elphick, who said, “This is an underperforming asset, but it is an asset.” He noted the airport has been part of the community for many years and has potential for the future. Factoring in the tax revenue from the airport, Elphick said Brockton was only “subsidizing the airport $15,000 net.”

Coun. Carl Kuhnke, the council representative on the SMA commission, commented on the fact that only a third – or less – of the airport’s 50 pilots come from Brockton, that the airport has had three managers in four months, and that the bulk of the expenses pay for the manager. He also noted every other municipal airport in the area, except Kincardine, has been sold to private interests

Deputy Mayor James Lang expressed the hope the airport would be purchased by those “private interests.”

Coun. Mitch Clark spoke out strongly against retaining the airport, saying he viewed it not as an asset but a liability.

“We have given the airport committee enough time,” he said.

The past few years have been challenging for the airport, according to the report. “The 2023 budget projected revenue of $60,000, although only $19,856 has been raised up to Oct. 31, 2023. Another $19,000 has been committed for 2024. The SMA has underspent on property development, runway and grounds maintenance and some wages… It should be noted, however, that the SMA owes Brockton $36,178.63 for the tractor and $54,649.36 to Meridian Credit Union for the hangar construction… The Municipality of Brockton received $50,388.51 in tax revenue from the Saugeen Municipal Airport property and the surrounding hangar properties in 2023.

“There were significant unbudgeted legal expenses and upgrades to the fuel system that resulted in a deficit at the end of 2022. As the SMA has operated on a very lean budget with no reserve funds for many years, it was difficult to overcome these unbudgeted expenses. While the runway and main hangar building appear to be in good shape, the SMA does not currently have a long-term asset management or capital replacement plan, and no reserves set aside for upgrades that may be needed.”

The report further stated that it will take some time for the goal of becoming financially self-sustaining to be accomplished. Additional investment may be needed to realize the potential of the facility becoming a regional airport, as per “visioning sessions” that have been taking place with Grey County.

The report stated SMA consists of approximately 254 acres, with about 56 used for growing hay. It has an MPAC value of $3.5 million.

SMA allows recreational pilots from other airports to fly in to park and refuel their planes, recording 178-plus such visits in September of this year. SMA is also used by commercial and medical flights.

SMA has a successful business – Kuhl Aero Academy, as well as The Landing Gear Diner.