Officials mull airport authority

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— The city and county are looking into creating an airport authority that could manage both Steamboat Springs Airport and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

That authority, discussed at a joint city/county meeting Tuesday night, would actually own the airports and have the autonomy to make its own decisions and consider revenue and expenditure options, said County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak. It would still be supported financially by the city and county.

Both the city and county have come to the conclusion that their airports will not be operating in the black anytime soon without some major changes. But the elected officials also realized that cooperation could help them cut some costs and solve problems jointly. The state allows communities to establish airport authorities that would not be able to levy taxes but would have control over the airports.

"We have to look beyond the idea of control to what's best for the community," said City Council President Kathy Connell.

County Commissioners Dan Ellison and Doug Monger expressed skepticism about the idea of creating an airport authority but agreed they would look into it.

Currently, the county subsidizes its airport to the tune of about $660,000 per year, $404,000 of which is a direct cash subsidy, said County Manager Tom Sullivan. The city, likewise, has to pay back the $2.8 million loan on its unused terminal and subsidize its airport operations every year. Both airports generate some of their own revenue the Steamboat airport by selling fuel and hangar leases and YVRA by charging landing fees, among other things.

Not that the two airports serve the same purpose: The Steamboat Springs Airport is a general aviation facility, while YVRA serves commercial flights.

Despite the financial shortfalls, city and county officials feel the airports are necessary to their economic survival because Steamboat is a destination ski resort, among other reasons. In addition, about 300 people work at YVRA, according to airport employees who showed up at the meeting Tuesday night.

The idea of creating an airport authority is still just in the brainstorming stages, with city and county staff considering how to establish a subcommittee to determine the feasibility of the authority. The county does currently have an airport advisory board that can make recommendations.

The members of the authority would likely be appointed by the City Council and the County Commission, though that process is not yet finalized.

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