Friday, July 8, 2011

Airport bond could reach millions

Authority releases draft funding plan


The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority could ask taxpayers whether they're willing to cough up $35.5 million in additional property taxes to fund a new airport, board members revealed Tuesday.

During a meeting of the Airport Authority, airport Manager Rick Baird released a draft version of a report written by airport staff for the Federal Aviation Administration that requests increased funding from the federal government for the proposed replacement airport.

The 30-page report states that it is meant to demonstrate the "unique" nature of Blaine County and the economic importance of a replacement airport to the region, as a way of justifying a request for more than $192 million in federal funds. It states that the county can pay about $45.8 million toward the cost of the roughly $370 million project, but that the authority is entertaining the idea of asking the county to ask voters to pass a general obligation bond.

The bond would require passage by a two-thirds vote in favor of the tax increase. However, voters may not even be asked to contribute, as several board members have said they are opposed to funding the new airport through property taxes.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an interview last month that he is opposed to any tax funding for the airport, while Commissioner Tom Bowman said he needed to get an idea of the community's opinion first.

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"Would this community support a small amount, but balk at a figure like $25 million?" Bowman asked during a June meeting between the commissioners and airport consultants.

Schoen and Bowman represent the county on the authority's board.

The report places the current estimated cost of the replacement airport at between $330 million and $370 million, depending on which site is approved. Currently, the favored—and lower-cost—site is located along state Highway 75 just north of the Blaine-Lincoln county line. This estimate is far higher than the January 2011 estimate of $189 million in costs.

The typical share that local communities have shouldered for other replacement airport projects around the country has been half of total project costs.

A final request for increased federal funding should be completed by October, Baird said, and will be given to officials from the FAA's regional office in Renton, Wash., who have committed to take it to FAA officials in Washington, D.C.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

FAA White Paper

For a complete draft of the authority's request, click here and scroll to page 33.




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