Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, in her follow-up audit report on the City of Joplin, said Joplin's airport budget should be watched more closely. Joplin's city manager says some airport operations have already changed. But he doesn't see city officials changing everything.
Joplin city officials are betting on a welcoming feature of the city's airport. Free parking.
"When you look at competing against other airports, that offers us a unique distinction," says Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm.
Anderson, Missouri resident Ellsworth Amos agrees with Anselm.
"Every time we do fly, it's mostly out of Joplin airport," says Amos.
But Missouri's state auditor says it's time for the city to get rid of as much excess baggage as possible. The state auditor pointed-out that the airport suffered a $1.4 million operating loss last year, even after the airport used about $4.3 million in federal grants. Taxpayers had to cover all of this loss, with money to the airport coming from Joplin's transportation sales tax fund.
The airport has an unrestricted deficit.
Anselm say's he's implementing a new bookkeeping method that will better itemize budgets city-wide.
"We're going to see a clearer picture about what each of those services are that the airport offers, costs, and then have a conversation with the council and the public," says Anselm.
The auditor also showed there was a problem with the airport collecting money from tenants renting hangars. Twenty tenants had more than a month's balance due, and one tenant owed more than 27 months-worth of rent payments. Anselm says the airport should generate about $47,000 a month from hangar tenants, and new late payment policies have been put in place. Anselm says to his knowledge, tenants are on payments plans now, and there have been no evictions.
The city manager says a new business park near the airport may help generate more money for the airport.
"The airport owns that property," says Anselm.
But take away that's already offered by the airport, like easy accessibility, and travelers like Amos may fly elsewhere. Amos says without free parking, he would more likely shop for the best deal no matter the airport's location.
So, city officials are expected to talk more about how much airport deficit is worth it.
We wanted to interview Joplin's airport manager, but the city's public information officer said only the city manager would talk about the recent audit of the city.
Only one airline, American, flies to and from Joplin, with Dallas being the only origin and destination.