County looks at YVRA funding

Commissioners may dedicate part of sales tax to airport

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— The Routt County Commissioners are looking at dedicating a permanent source of tax revenue for the Yampa Valley Regional Airport. The funding would come from the current sales tax collected by the county. If the tax money isn't enough to cover the airport's budget, then YVRA will be forced to increase landing fees and other fees collected in airport operations.

"Our goal is to give (YVRA Director) Jim Parker a stable source of revenue so that he will know an 'X' amount of sales tax will go to the airport on an annual budget," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Stahoviak said Parker needs to know how much money he's getting from the county at the beginning of the budget process, not at the end. Parker has been asking the county to dip into its general fund toward the end of its budget year.

Parker and county accountants have worked up an analysis based on the airport collecting 10 percent of the county's sales tax.

For example, the county would collect $3.6 million in sales tax for 2001. That means the airport would get $360,000 in sales tax for operations and capital projects.

In the 2001 budget, that would create a $340,000 shortfall because the airport needs about $700,000 to operate.

County accountants estimated YVRA could raise another $100,000 from landing fees; another $30,000 from new contracts for fuel fees; and $200,000 from unspent overtime and other personnel savings along with parking fees.

Parker asked the commissioners if they were prepared for the "political heat" they would get from raising landing fees.

"Yes, I don't care," answered Stahoviak.

Parker was referring to the fact that the landing fees would directly affect businesses in Steamboat Springs that help subsidize the guaranteed flight program.

The businesses, especially the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., give a certain amount of money to the airlines to ensure they can operate at a minimal profit in and out of YVRA. If the landing fees go up for the airlines, the airlines are likely to turn around and ask Steamboat businesses to up their donations as well.

Stahoviak reiterated the commissioners' stance that it's getting continually more difficult to operate the county's airport, especially when the city of Steamboat Springs refuses to help fund the airport with a cash subsidy every year.

The city recently rejected a request for $100,000 to help fund airport operations.

"It's (airport funding) going to have to come from somewhere," Stahoviak said. "I want Jim (Parker) to know consistently where he's getting his money from."

Chamber Resort Association Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall seemed surprised by the county's latest effort to find stable funding for the airport.

"Putting the onus on landing fees does affect the businesses in Steamboat," said Evans-Hall, who didn't want to comment any more until she saw the new airport analysis.

There may be a little relief for businesses. At the end of the meeting with Parker, commissioners said they would look at dedicating anywhere from 12 percent to 15 percent per year of the county's sales tax to the airport. That would put a lighter burden on other funding sources like landing fees.

County accountants will continue to study the airport funding situation, and the commissioners plan to take the results to the airport advisory board.

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