Council debates Steamboat airport

During a review of the Steamboat Springs Airport on Tuesday night, some council members asked for a philosophical discussion on whether the airport should remain open.

Airport Manager Matt Grow presented a $1.9 million budget for 2005, which included taking $380,000 from the general fund to cover expenses. The city is still paying $287,000 for debt service on the terminal.

Councilwoman Susan Dellinger asked that the council set aside a time for a philosophical debate on the airport before the final October budget meeting.

Councilman Ken Brenner asked that the city consider a proposal that was presented earlier that night to put the question of keeping the airport open to the voters in November.

"I really don't think there is any issue that I am aware of that council is more divided on or at philosophical odds over the airport," Brenner said. "That bothers me."

He questioned if the $380,000 from the general fund and the almost $1 million from state and federal grants would be well-spent.

"It is in the community plan to take a look at this. There is an awful lot of money that goes into this. I wonder if it is being spent in the correct places," Brenner said.

Council President Paul Strong noted that if the airport shut down today, the city would still be obligated to pay almost $290,000 in debt service on the terminal. He said the remainder of the city's subsidy could be paid for from the economic activity the airport generates.

"I would certainly deny it is a money loser, I think it is profitable," Strong said.

The city is anticipating a $952,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and the state in 2005 for repaving and drainage work on the north ramp at the airport. Grow also is proposing that the city spend $40,000 to improve one of the most heavily used taxiways at the airport. The city would save money if the projects were done together, Grow said. He also noted that the federal grant money for the project comes from taxes imposed on aviation users.

During the public comment period, Mark Freirich, representing Combine Airports Now LLC, came before the council asking to put the question of keeping the city's airport open before the voters in November.

"The airport benefits only a privileged few, and these funds would provide far more benefit if invested in badly needed improvements at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which provides a substantially greater annual economic impact as compared to the Steamboat Springs Airport," Freirich said.

After Brenner asked the council to comment on the group's proposal, Strong said it was not the city's policy to address issues at the same meeting when they come up during the public comment period.

Brenner also requested that the city ask the county to look at what it would take to accommodate the city's general aviation traffic when it did the master plan for the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who sits on the Yampa Valley Airport Commission, said the next step should be to have a joint meeting with the county commissioners and airport commission.

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