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City officials are considering transferring the Springfield-Branson National Airport to stand-alone authority.
SBJ file photo
City officials are considering transferring the Springfield-Branson National Airport to stand-alone authority.

Council opens talks for stand-alone airport authority

Posted online

Last edited 8:37 a.m., Jan. 10, 2019

The conversation around transferring the Springfield-Branson National Airport to a stand-alone airport authority has begun with city officials.

At City Council’s luncheon yesterday, Jim Anderson, co-chair of the airport task force, and Brian Weiler, Springfield-Branson National Airport director of aviation, were present to answer council’s questions about the final report from the airport task force, which was initially presented to council Dec. 4. Task force members previously pointed to reduced red tape in operations and the pursuit of nontraditional revenue streams for their recommendation to switch to self-governance.

The nine-member task force met seven times between July and November.

“Our role as an airport task force was to look at the merits of the governance and then suggest to council that we think this should be done,” Anderson said, who also is on the airport board. “We did not take a firm position as an airport task force on if there should be a clear separation or should there be a contract for services.”

The looming question is the legality of how an airport authority would be formed.

Now that the report has been discussed by city and airport officials, the next step is having City Manager Jason Gage, along with staff, determine if a city charter change is necessary and how a city can form an airport authority, said Rhonda Lewsader, Springfield’s city attorney.

Mayor Ken McClure said the state statute covers airport authorities created in counties, not cities, and how members of the board are elected.

According to state statute, a governing body of any county may create an airport authority to build or acquire and operate one or more airports within the boundaries of the county or adjoining county.

A board of five or seven elected members is permitted under state statute.

“I think I speak for all the task force members in saying we are not recommending that we have elected members on the authority,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he likes the alignment of the airport and the city.

“The city’s role could perhaps be more than just appointing members to the authority. It could be a long-term lease,” he said.

Anderson mentioned a 99-year lease used by the Des Moines International Airport and the Tulsa International Airport as an example.

McClure asked Anderson why the switch was needed.

Anderson said he sees benefits of streamlined decision-making and the ability to more aggressively pursue nontraditional revenue streams for the airport.

“I’d put a go-kart track in it if I could make money on it,” Weiler said as an example.

The airport currently operates without any tax support from the city, but it does pay $300,000 a year for city services in the legal and human resources departments, Springfield Business Journal previously reported.

The annual budget for the airport is $27.4 million, according to the proposed fiscal 2018-19 city budget.

The airport has an estimated annual economic impact of $500 million, and it just hit a 1 million-passenger goal on Dec. 6. Officials say passenger counts are up 40 percent over the last four years, according to past SBJ reporting.

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