Airport budget studied

Review: Should city spend more on airport?

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A budget review of the city's transportation department, which includes the Steamboat Springs Airport, could go beyond the numbers Tuesday and to the debate of how much more money, if any, the city wants to spend on its general aviation airport.

The Yampa Valley Airport Commission issued a report earlier this summer on the benefit of keeping the Steamboat airport open in the face of criticism of the facility.

Three council members -- Ken Brenner, Susan Dellinger and Steve Ivancie -- questioned the validity of the airport commission's report and during the past year have voted against spending more money on the airport.

"We need to have that philosophical discussion that questions if the continued investment in the airport is in the best interest (of the community)," Brenner said. "Or should we re-evaluate and consider other priorities."

Brenner suggested the money could be better used for other transportation improvements such as increased bus services or sidewalks or funding Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden. The regional airport, which handles the area's commercial traffic, has an economic impact of $183 million a year, compared to an economic impact of $7.5 million a year at the Steamboat airport.

The council has reviewed departmental budgets each council meeting this summer in preparation for the city's daylong budget hearings in October.

City staff estimates the airport will bring in $1.55 million in revenue and cost $1.93 million in expenses in 2005. The preliminary budget calls for transferring $379,236 from the city's general fund to the airport.

About $950,000 of the airport's revenue comes from the Federal Aviation Administration and state grants. The debt service for the airport and terminal improvements will cost the city about $287,253.

City Council President Paul Strong said that in light of the recent discussions, council members probably would have more pointed questions for the airport budget than for other departments it has reviewed. The larger discussion of whether the airport should remain open would be more appropriate for a different meeting, he said.

"Even the people who said they would like to see (the Steamboat airport) closed and consolidate operations, (know) this isn't something that can happen in the next year or two," he said.

A report by the Yampa Valley Airport Commission, which was released in June, showed that it would cost the city $18 million to close the airport initially and then more than $4 million a year annually. Those costs include reimbursing the FFA for millions of dollars in federal grants and spending nearly $5 million to buy out hangar contracts.

The report showed that operating the airport costs the city about $185,000 a year, but the airport brings in $65,000 more annually through the sales-tax revenue its users generate.

The report also pointed to the airport's social and safety benefits of drawing location-neutral businesses to Steamboat and providing a home for Civil Air Patrol and the Yampa Valley Air Ambulance Service.

A local group called Combined Airports Now LLC is trying to put a ballot initiative together asking residents whether the Steamboat airport should be closed.

The group has written a letter to the City Council proposing that all development of the airport stop and that no new grants be given until residents vote to keep the airport open.

"Consolidation could potentially save millions of tax dollars by eliminating duplication of equipment, personnel, security protection, capital expenditures and routine maintenance costs," the letter from the group reads. "In any case, consolidation costs are insignificant compared to the taxpayer dollars that are and will be spent to keep the (city) airport open for the benefit of a privileged few."

Attorney Mark Freirich, who represents the local group, said he is not sure whether the ballot question will go before the voters this November or at a special election. The petition has been drafted, he said.

Strong said if a group wanted to petition an issue on to November's ballot, the petition needed to come to the city by July 20.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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