News and Tribune

May 15, 2013

Airport authority ordinance introduced

Clark councilman withdraws proposal for wheel tax

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE —

On the same day that Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that would authorize the Clark County Council to establish a new regional airport authority, the council allowed an ordinance to do exactly that to be introduced at its meeting Monday.

The ordinance, 15-2013, would establish the South Central Regional Airport Authority, which would replace the Clark County Board of Aviation Commissioners. The authority would be able to accept donations from the River Ridge Development Authority. 

“I think creating this authority gives an avenue for those businesses which directly benefit from the airport, such as River Ridge,” said Council Vice President Brian Lenfert. “It gives them another avenue for their dollars which are invested out at River Ridge to be used at the airport. So I think it’s exactly what adversaries have been saying for the last few years, which is let the businesses pay for the airport if they use it.” 

Councilwoman Kelly Khuri attempted to strike the ordinance from the meeting agenda before it was introduced, but her motion to do so failed by a 6-1 vote. Khuri said she wanted time to review the ordinance before it was discussed. Khuri said she preferred to have County Council Attorney Scott Lewis be responsible for the language instead of air board attorney Greg Fifer. 

“Just some of the language I think can be honed in to where the taxpayers are protected a little bit more,” Khuri said. “Even though we would have the ability to — the budget would come before us [as well as] the tax levies, but I would also like to see any additional appropriations ... come before the council.” 

If established, the airport authority would be required to go before the council for approval of its annual budget and any additional appropriations, per the ordinance. Any donations from outside bodies would also need to be approved by the council before they could be spent. 

“I think it’s a great ordinance,” Counciman Kevin Vissing said. “I’ve always supported the airport. I think that it’s an economic tool that’s going to draw large businesses to the area.”

 

WHEEL TAX DEAD ... FOR NOW

Vissing, who had expressed a desire for the council to enact a wheel tax and vehicle excise tax, said that in light of changes to pending legislation at the statehouse, he would no longer pursue the issue. 

Vissing had originally brought forth the idea of enacting the taxes in response to provisions included in a draft version of the state budget that would freeze highway dollars at 2012 levels for counties that did not enact such a tax. The provisions were later removed, and additional highway dollars were built into the final budget. 

“That kind of made it a moot point,” Vissing said. 

Vissing said that he would still like to see the taxes enacted to help the county with shortages of funds in the county general fund’s budget. By enacting the tax and lowering the tax rate on the cumulative bridge fund — which currently stands at 5 cents — there would be more money in the county general fund. Vissing said it would be an alternative to tax rates mandated by courts as a result of county department lawsuits, such as the one currently being mulled by Sheriff Danny Rodden to cover a shortfall in jail payroll funds.

“Instead of getting mandated or sued for it, we would get it from the wheel tax, which is a fairer tax,” Vissing said. 

Khuri said she opposes the wheel tax, and fellow Republican Councilmen Danny Yost and Steve Doherty have indicated their opposition to enacting the tax at a previous meeting. 

“Once the wheel tax is established, it would never be removed. That’s my opinion,” Khuri said. 

Lenfert said his opposition to the tax is a reflection of what he’s heard from his constituents. 

“At some point, you have to be a representative of your constituents’ wishes, and there was no question that my constituents [are] adamantly against the wheel tax,” Lenfert said.