Airport control at issue

Commission weighs becoming taxing authority

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Two years after its formation, the Yampa Valley Airport Commission's future role in managing Routt County's two airports is getting a closer look.

In the past few months, the commission has been gathering information about forming an airport authority or broader regional transportation authority.

Right now, the commission is a body that makes recommendations to Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs about how to manage the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and the Steamboat Springs Airport. An authority, run by an autonomous board, would take control of the two airports and would have the ability to ask voters for taxes to support the airports.

"We would like to come up with some sort of mechanism that would benefit both airports. We are still in the very beginning of the exploratory stage on this," Airport Commission member Ulrich Salzgeber said.

In preparation for the commission's discussion on an airport authority and RTA, City Transportation Director George Krawzoff created a matrix evaluating the pros and cons of an airport authority and regional transportation authority.

Among the bonuses of an airport authority and RTA, Krawzoff said it would insulate the airports from annual political debates and coordinate their operations.

On the con side, the authority could create another level of bureaucracy if it continues to depend on the city and county for airport funding.

The matrix also indicated that voters would be less likely to approve a tax to support the authority if money were to go to the Steamboat Springs Airport, which has faced political opposition. "It is my sense, whoever controls the purse strings controls the body," Krawzoff said of the various options for managing the airports.

As an airport authority, the board would assume control of the airport from the city and county. It could borrow money, issue revenue bonds, condemn property and ask voters to approve a property or sales tax to fund the airports.

A regional transportation authority could ask for a tax and raise revenue through other sources. An RTA could encompass other transportation entities, such as public transit and roads.

The board of an RTA only could be comprised of elected officials. An RTA could raise an estimated $5.2 million in sales taxes, auto registration fees and a visitor benefit tax, Krawzoff said.

Money generated by an RTA could replace the airline guarantees and general-fund money the county and city use to fund the airports.

However, the broader scope of the RTA, which also could fund public transit and roads, would require years of work before it is ready to go to voters for approval.

About a decade ago, the city and county looked at forming an airport authority, but the timing was not right, Salzgeber said.

"We might be in a better position now or in a few years," he said. "To me, the biggest challenge will be if the county and city have the political will to let another autonomous board make decisions for property they currently own."

The actual implementation of an authority is far in the future, Airport Commission chairman Marty Kolonel said. The Airport Commission will talk about its next steps and set a timetable during a meeting scheduled for Thursday. In October, the commission should have initial recommendations to present to the Routt County Board of Commissioners and Steamboat Springs City Coun-cil, Kolonel said.

"We will go back to the city and county and say if we think we should stay where we are, think it is worthwhile to investigate further a authority or RTA, or go back to an advisory board," Kolonel said. "Everything is on the table. My guess is we'll end up someplace close to where we are."

Comprised of representatives from cities and counties and the tourism, business and aviation sector, the Airport Commission makes recommendations to the city and county, much as the preceding Yampa Valley Airport Advisory Board did.

Salzgeber, who served on both boards, said the commission has been an improvement to the advisory board because it involves more of the community's stakeholders.

"The commissioners and the city are more apt to listen because the people are actually the stakeholders in the community. We might not be the people really making the decisions, but at least the recommendations we are making are being heard," Salzgeber said.

Krawzoff said to the best of his knowledge the city and county have not strayed from the recommendations of the commission.

Looking beyond the commission to an authority is not new, Salzgeber said.

"It has been in the back of our minds from the inception of the commission to work toward an authority,' he said.

Both Kolonel and Salzgeber said an authority should be in place before the city and county look at hiring a joint manager for the county's two airports.

Since its inception, the Airport Commission has recommended establishing the Steamboat Springs Airport as a general aviation airport and the Yampa Valley Regional Airport as a commercial airport with larger general aviation crafts.

While a joint manager might make sense some day, Salzgeber said, it would be a logistical challenge for an airport manager to oversee two airports that were run by different bodies.

The future role of airport manager came into question last winter when Airport Manager Matt Grow left the Steamboat Springs Airport.

The city decided to hire from within and not recruit for the position. Part of that decision hinged on keeping open the possibility of hiring a joint manager for both airports.

"We have a very capable airport manager. I don't feel we have a lack of management at the airport," Krawzoff said.

The county also had to reevaluate its manager position when YVRA Airport Manager Jim Parker resigned. The county continues to interview for the manager position. County Manager Tom Sullivan has said the county is not looking specifically for someone who could be a joint manager, but the person hired would not preclude that option.

Kolonel thinks the airports are far from having a joint manager and that an authority must be in place before that can happen.

Like Salzgeber he thinksgetting the city and county to agree to hand over control of their airports to an authority will not be easy.

"The city and county aren't at a point that I see to contract with each other for manager services," Kolonel said. "And, frankly there is not a need to do so,"

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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