By Dale Martin
July 10, 2020
“The financial position of the Airport will likely have a practical application with the planned construction of a new fire station.”
The City’s financial and accounting structure includes several “funds.” The most significant fund is the General Fund. The General Fund is the City’s primary operating account, with the overwhelming amount of revenues generated by property taxes and expenditures associated with personnel and services (approximately two-thirds of which is related to police, fire, and parks and recreation operations).
In addition to the General Fund, the City has several other “enterprise” funds. Enterprise funds are typically designated as such because of the funding mechanisms associated with the services provided: user charges and fees, not property taxes. Enterprise funds are, in theory, designed to generate sufficient revenues through user fees to fund operating costs. The City’s enterprise funds include the Marina, the Golf Course, the Airport, Sanitation, and Utilities (water and wastewater).
The Marina and the Golf Course have received the most significant scrutiny due to the failure of those operations to satisfactorily sustain their operations through user fees. Due to those financial shortcomings, those two operations have required substantial financial support from the General Fund (property taxes). The financial operation of those two recognized community assets must be addressed to reduce the need for General Fund support.
The Sanitation and Utilities funds are often overlooked as enterprise funds. Those funds provide a basic municipal service and have no need for additional financial support outside of the fees associated with those services.
Unlike the other two “recreational” enterprise funds (the Marina and the Golf Course), the Airport is financially sustainable, requiring no support from the General Fund. In large part, this is due to the extensive land at the Airport, several hundred acres of which are leased for use as the Amelia River Golf Club. Several other ground leases, at fair market rates reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), provide long-term steady and predictable revenue. Annual funding from the FAA (derived from taxes and charges on commercial ticket sales) and the Florida Department of Transportation (derived from aviation fuel sales) provide revenues for the Airport, too.
The financial position of the Airport has been historically strong, even during a period of contentiousness between the Airport operator (Fixed-Based Operator, or FBO) and the City. Despite the contentiousness, the previous FBO, and in tandem, the City, was financially successful with Airport operations. The strength of the financial success was demonstrated by the ability to design and construct the new terminal facility with no need for General Fund (property tax) support.
I believe that another recent key factor in the success of the Airport is the result of the leadership and professionalism of the Airport Director, Mr. Nathan (Nate) Coyle.
Mr. Coyle came to the City approximately three years ago from a similar position in Idaho (although at the time, he was actually serving his community as the City Manager following his service as the community’s Airport Manager). He is an Air Force veteran, and his service included overseas tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan to support Air Force operations in those theaters. His wife, Heather, is originally from Florida, which led, in part, to their decision to come to Fernandina Beach. Their two young children, James and Kylie, are full of boundless energy, precociousness, and trouble- those kids will be fun to watch as they torment their parents! Since Nate’s arrival, his parents, Mike and Becky, have moved to Nassau County from Pennsylvania.
Nate has established a professional rapport with the members of the Airport Advisory Commission (AAC). His experience with airport operations provides outstanding direction in determining future operations and plans. One indicator of the success of the Airport may be evident in the waiting list for individual hangars: that list has grown from roughly twenty interested people to close to seventy. Mr. Coyle is developing plans to accommodate this growing demand with additional hangar space.
The financial position of the Airport will likely have a practical application with the planned construction of a new fire station. By being located on Airport property, the Airport will be able to provide additional funding and perhaps even serve as the financing source for the construction of the facility (the City would then likely “lease” the grounds/facility from the Airport).
Other notable projects scheduled at the Airport include new fuel tanks and the rehabilitation of a runway (funded 100%, over $2 million, by the FAA as part of the national response to the Covid pandemic). As the Airport was originally developed to support military operations, several military units- ground-based with no inherent aircraft assets- have utilized the Airport for training exercise: a unit of the Florida Army National Guard has provided air control support for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance for several years, enhancing the safety of air operations during one of the busiest Island events.
Mr. Coyle is a great asset to the Airport. He, like other senior leaders on the City staff, represent the City well and demonstrate a strong commitment to this community. I look forward to continuing to serve with Nate.