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Editorial: Airport manager plan raises concern

The Willmar City Council Monday approved a city staff plan to manage Willmar Municipal Airport with a private-management agreement.

This private-management agreement is not a wise decision for the long-term future of the city's $21 million airport.

We commend the City Council and staff for their efforts to take a frugal budget path for the airport's operation for the remainder of 2009. We always like to see government being careful with the taxpayer dollars.

There are concerns about this airport management plan.

The City Council Monday approved the city staff's plan to hire Brian Negen as the city's on-site airport manager. His firm -- Maxium Cruise Aviation LLC -- will receive a fee of $1,000 per month. Thus, the city spends only $12,000, saving at least $33,000 when compared to the previous airport manager's $45,000 salary plus benefits.

The city's agreement then calls for Negen's firm to provide one or more persons to perform the daily activities to keep the airport safe, accessible and operational. The airport would have a presence at the airport for daytime hours (8 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m.) Monday through Friday, plus some weekend coverage as well.

City Administrator Michael Schmit has also said that Negen plans to expand his company's 7-person staff to help meet the airport's staffing requirements.

The plan calls for Negen's company to staff the airport for about 7 hours a day plus weekend hours, roughly totaling a 40-hour week. His company will be paid $12,000 for a 40-hour per week for 52 weeks a year. In addition, he plans to add to his current 7-person staff. Does this sound like a viable business plan?

This plan at first glance does not appear to add up from a business perspective or from a city airport perspective.

We understand the current budget challenges of city government and the need to conserve city funds where possible. In addition, we have no concerns about Negen or his staff in his private business.

We are questioning the viability and wisdom of this part-time management plan.

Is a part-time management plan the best way to manage a $21 million airport?

Is this plan in the best interest of the airport's users?

Is this plan in the best interest of the airport's long-term future?

Is Negen, a new independent businessman, going to be able to manage his business and be the best manager for the airport?

Is a part-time airport management plan the best option for economic development of the airport and the city?

The good thing about this agreement is that it can be reviewed at the end of 2009 to see if it is working.

We will have to wait and see if this is the best decision for the long-term future of the airport and the city.