News and Tribune

March 17, 2013

Clark Council endorses airport authority bill

Approves letter in support of SB 535

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The Clark County Council voted to send a letter to State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, in support of Senate Bill 535, which would create new rules for the creation of an airport authority in the county. 

“I think he would really just like something from us, and I think this is really — it’s just in support of the concept of the establishment [of an airport authority],” Council President Barbara Hollis said.

In its current form, if the county were to establish an airport authority, the bill would allow for area redevelopment commissions and the River Ridge Development Authority to send funds to the airport authority.  The bill would give the county council the power of approval for the authority’s budget, tax levies, bonds and leases payable from property taxes. The council voted 6-1 to send the letter of support, with council member Kelly Khuri voting against. 

“We’ve got to have safeguards, is all I’m saying,” Khuri said. “And I’m not satisfied with this.” 

The council approved the language of the letter after an hour-plus conversation at a Wednesday work session, but only after the letter was modified to include a reiteration of the importance of the county council having full veto power over the airport authority’s ability to appropriate funds given to it by redevelopment commissions. 

“Furthermore, and more importantly, the county council is in favor of a new airport authority [bill] that only allows the airport authority to implement tax rates with the specific approval of the county council and that provides the county council with complete and binding approval authority over the airport authority’s budget and over all appropriations,” the letter states.

“The reason that I’m passionate about that is if another entity that has the ability to set a tax rate, I don’t want them to set a tax rate and then turn around and give the money to the county airport, thus circumventing the council’s authority,” Council Vice President Brian Lenfert said. “But if we have binding approval of their budget as if they were another county department, we could [vote to not appropriate] those dollars, thus stopping the pass-through or the go-around of the council’s approval of any tax-rate funding to the airport.”

Council member Steve Doherty agreed with Lenfert, stating that it was important that the spending of tax dollars be controlled by elected representatives instead of appointed airport authority members. 

If SB 535 is passed by the Statehouse, the county would need to establish the airport authority by way of ordinance. The authority, per the terms of the statute, would be named the South Central Regional Airport Authority, and would replace the Clark County Board of Aviation Commissioners. The size of the authority’s board of trustees is still in flux. The current bill calls for the authority to be an 11-member committee. The county council’s bill of support asked that the board be five members. 

The bill will be discussed in committee on the morning of Thursday, March 21.