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March 9, 2013

Clark County airport authority bill moves forward

No taxes tied to creation of an airport authority, state Sen. Grooms says

CLARK COUNTY — he push to establish an airport authority for the Clark Regional Airport has moved out of Indiana’s Senate.

A unanimous vote Tuesday moved Senate Bill 535 on to the Indiana House of Representatives. The bill, if approved, would allow for the creation of the South Central Regional Airport Authority at Clark Regional Airport.

The airport authority would replace the current structure at the airport, the Board of Aviation Commissioners. An effort to transition from a board of commissioners to an airport authority has been under way for years.

Creating an airport authority would allow the airport greater autonomy in promoting, marketing and developing the location.

“It allows for monies or revenues to be directed to the airport authority from a military reuse authority or any redevelopment commission in Clark County,” said Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville.

Grooms, who introduced the bill, said allowing the airport to operate as an authority, if created, would strengthen its ability to grow in the region. He added that it would not come at a cost to local taxpayers.

“It gives a way for the airport to receive money other than property tax levy,” he said.

Board of Aviation Commissioners President Tom Galligan said the move will help with economic development in the region.

“We’re a department of the county right now,” he said. “It takes some of the liability off of the county; we think it will help them and help us. We’re trying to make [the airport] self-sufficient and we think this will help us.”

Even if the airport authority is created, its actions will still be subject to approval by the Clark County Council, which is a key provision in the bill for Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, who is the house sponsor of the bill, with co-sponsors Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Crothersville.

“The key to me on this bill was ... to have the assurance that the elected fiscal body, being the county council, had the discretion of this entity,” Stemler said.

All bonding and budgets will still go through the county council for approval.

“The county council is in total control,” Grooms said. “The bill does not create a tax. The authority doesn’t even exist unless the county council creates it. What it does do is gives the airport the ability to generate and collect money.”

Stemler added that it adds an accountability to the airport authority that would not exist if it were an autonomous, nonelected group that could bond and levy taxes.

Grooms added the need to create the authority exists because the county government does not have anyone they could send out and market the airport and as a function of county government, it is limited in trying to promote and grow Clark Regional Airport.

“It’s a funding issue is what it is,” Stemler said.

He explained creating an airport authority gives the area redevelopment commissions and the River Ridge Development Authority the ability to give the airport money.

The provision that states the airport authority would be able to accept money from a military reuse authority is a direct reference to River Ridge Commerce Center, which was formerly the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. The bill would also allow the airport authority to accept funding from area redevelopment districts. Jeffersonville has a Tax Increment Finance district in River Ridge and Sellersburg has a Tax Increment Finance district directly across from the planned expansion of the airport, both potential sources of additional income.

If it is in those entities’ best interests to help support the airport, they can give money through their TIF, reallocating the funds they currently collect, Stemler said.

“There’s a greater opportunity for more involvement,” Grooms said. “It just makes sense that we move forward with promoting a new form of transportation that will be so vital.”

“The sustainability and continued expansion would be an asset to economic development,” Stemler said. “Ultimately, you hope it will augment job creation.”

He added that in addition to Clark County, he hopes to draw interest in supporting the airport from other areas like Scott County, which would benefit from Clark Regional Airport’s growth.

The expanded airport would pair with railroad access nearby, the Ohio River and the planned east-end bridge that will connect Utica to Prospect, Ky., just south of the River Ridge Commerce Center and the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, to create a transportation network throughout the region.

Expansion plans at the airport are under way to extend the runway to 7,000 feet — and the Clark County Commissioners have committed to building a connector road from River Ridge to the airport.

“All the pieces are in place to make this a truly regional airport,” Grooms said. “It just makes a total transportation package that we have even more valuable. Hopefully, it will serve as a magnet for more businesses to come into River Ridge.”

Stemler said the airport could not only provide improved access to corporate officers, customers and potential clients, but that eventually that the airport could create a niche for cargo, with the connector road being constructed that would link the site to River Ridge.

According to the Indiana General Assembly website, the bill is in committee in the House of Representatives. As the bill moves into the House, Stemler has asked the Clark County Commissioners, the county council and the air board to approve resolutions supporting the switch from a board of commissioners to an airport authority.

“I wanted to make sure there was total by ‘in’ by all the local entities,” he said. “I think it’s critically important for me as a legislator in Indianapolis to be able to present this on the House floor with this piece of information.”

He added that one change has already been planned for the bill, which would reduce the total number of authority members from 11 down to seven. The authority members would be appointed, but the precise structure for those appointments has not been determined.

“We’re behind,” Stemler said. “We should have been addressing this long ago. The time is now to do it and we’re hopeful this is a good means to do it.”

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