Here’s a piece of an e-mail from an FAA official to the City of DeKalb about FAA requirements for holding Corn Fest at the airport, which DeKalb County Online got hold of in May:

Of particular importance is the amount of money received by the airport from the event. This MUST be some form of Fair Market Value revenue received from the event and put into the airport operations fund. Failure to do so could put the airport in noncompliance with its Grant Assurances. IDA/FAA may request proof of payment to ensure compliance. I would also add that a token sum of something like $500/day or $1,000/day for what appears to be a pretty big event is not considered Fair Market Value.

In early June, the FAA official recapped an agreement made during a meeting with the City of DeKalb:

- There will be a charge for parking for the event. A daily and/or weekend charge/fee was mentioned. Based on historical attendance figures, this could lead to revenue to the airport ranging between $30k to $50K. Also, you mentioned in the previous years’ events that the sales tax collected at the event went back into the airport budget. These two sources of income (if close to the estimated amount) would, in my opinion, be considered Fair Market Value for a 3-day event.

Then the Chronicle editorial said this*:

The scenario: A festival is held each year which draws some, but not all, of a city’s residents and a number of out-of-town visitors. The city provides, among other things, a location for the festival and police and emergency personnel in case something goes wrong. The emergency personnel are paid out of their departments’ budgets, which tough financial times have stretched as far as they will go.

The question: Who should pay for those costs? The people who attend the festival or every taxpayer in the city, whether they attend or not?

And then in the Chronicle comments section I said this*:

Lynn F., DeKalb, IL (Lynn F) wrote on July 14, 2011 8:12 a.m.
“The parking fee WILL NOT GO to pay for emergency services. It MUST go into the airport fund, or the city will be in trouble with FAA. http://dekalbcountyonline.com/2011/05/26/cornfest-in-question/ and http://dekalbcountyonline.com/2011/06/09/city-of-dekalb-responds-to-faa-cornfest-letter/ “

And then the Chronicle’s city editor said this:

Jason S., DeKalb, IL (dc_editor) wrote on July 14, 2011 1:10 p.m.
“To clarify: If a parking fee is approved, the money the city would get would go into the airport fund. Funding for the airport fund comes from the city’s general fund; City Manager Mark Biernacki said that any money from the parking fee would mean less money would be transferred to the airport fund from the city’s general fund. That money that is not transferred would then be used to help offset the costs the city incurs to host Corn Fest at the airport. Kate Schott, Daily Chronicle News Editor”

Sure, it MIGHT happen that way. Or the airport manager might suddenly need a shiny new truck next year.

This is spin, and I don’t like it.

To bolster my point, let’s go back to the recap of the FAA – City of DeKalb meeting:

Also, you mentioned in the previous years’ events that the sales tax collected at the event went back into the airport budget.

But when I asked for the line item in the airport budget that accounted for CF sales tax revenue, I got this response from the assistant city manager:

Currently restaurant and bar taxes from Cornfest go the General Fund. However with the FAA being more stringent with locally collected taxes from the Airport being put back into the Airport Fund, we will deposit R&B and parking fees collected from Cornfest into the Airport Fund.

The “clarification” for this apparent contradiction is, of course, that the airport gets General Fund money.

It’s a shell game, my friends, and only the huckster wins.**

*These links are temporary.
** See what I did there?! Huckster? Corn Fest? Heh.