Paying for a new airport

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/21/01.

Though the airport zoning dispute remains unresolved, exactly how the city and township would pay for a new runway was broached last week by both the city council and the township at its annual meeting.

The city and the township committed to splitting the costs of a new airport when they entered the joint powers agreement a year ago. Since then, though, two developments have been annexed into the city - Project 55 and part of WilGlo Acres - which increased the city's tax base and reduces the township.

The result on the airport is for the city to be responsible for slightly more than half of the costs.

Construction is expected to cost around $1.2 million, with the state paying for the first $200,000 and splitting the remainder costs with the local entities 60-40. That means both the city and township will have to pay about 20 percent of the total cost, or about $200,000.

In the township, that figure has been looked upon as a maximum contribution, and Pat Meagher, who owns land where the new airport would be located, questioned whether the project could be done for $1.2 million. He thinks land values will be higher than a budgeted $950 per acre and the cost of paving the runway - not included in the original proposal - will increase the total cost.

Steve Whitcomb, chairman of the Paynesville Regional Airport Commission, said at the township annual meeting that land appraisals should be done by early April, giving a better indicator on the value of the land. Money could be saved by building a shorter, paved strip, which also might reduce the amount of land the airport would need to purchase.

Both the city and the township have surpluses. The city has nearly $950,000 in its unreserved general fund, which can be spent on whatever the council decides, and $1.6 million in fund balance overall.

At the council meeting last Wednesday, March 14, council member Harlan Beek questioned from which fund the city would provide funds to the airport. The city does have $35,000 in its airport fund, of which $25,000 is designated for the new airport and $10,000 for upkeep of the present facility.

The payment process will be for the airport commission to receive and approve the expenses and submit them to the city, which will present them to the state for the matching funds. Whatever the state doesn't pay will be split by the city and township, with the city in charge of the bookkeeping.

Beek requested an accounting of the airport expenditures and reimbursements so far.

Township fund balance
At the annual meeting, township resident Leo Louis questioned why the township has nearly $1.5 in reserves, which is nearly six times what the township spent in 2000. "I think we're either overtaxed or we're underspending," said Louis. "I'd like to see a plan to spend that money."

"Maybe we should spend it on an airport," he added later.

Whether to spend money on an airport certainly is a matter of disagreement in the township, but at the annual meeting the sentiment was to leave the levies as they are and keep a reserve.

"I guess I don't have a problem having a reserve," said Mike Meagher, a township resident who has questioned the location of the proposed airport. "Our school had one five years ago, and now it's gone."

"It's much better to have a reserve than to be like other townships that struggle to make ends meet," agreed Edward Lang, another resident.

Township supervisors acknowledged a large surplus, and stated their intention for getting better organized and accounting for future spending. The township is working on a five-year road plan so it can budget road maintenance.

This year, the township plans to spend $109,000 to asphalt roads, and to rebuild Old Lake Road. The county paid the township nearly $400,000 to account for improvement and maintenance on that road.

As for paying for the airport, supervisor Don Pietsch repeated his interest in using EDAP interest to pay for the bulk of the township's share of an airport. Several years ago, the township received a $200,000 federal grant for EDAP. Now, including interest, the township has $340,000 in their EDAP account.

The initial grant must be used for economic development, but the township has more latitude in spending the interest, which Pietsch would like to use to pay for the airport.

(Linda Stelling contributed to this report.)

Return to Archives