Sherburne County hopes to keep the momentum up by passing resolution for ad hoc committee

by Jim Boyle

Editor

Momentum is building to create regional airport authority for the St. Cloud Regional Airport, and Sherburne County commissioners have climbed aboard the effort.

Discussions have been on going for years, but they reached new heights earlier this year upon the conclusion of the $250,000 study that examined the airport’s current and potential economic impact on the region.

Its overall economic impact has been valued at $44.2 million annually across the region, including a boost from 289 jobs the airport generates and the $17.1 million it pays them along with $2.3 million in local taxes.

It’s believed that could be more than doubled with a new governance model and broader support, according to Steve Baldwin, a member of an aviation management consulting firm that has worked with airports across the nation.

The St. Cloud Regional Airport is currently run by the city of St. Cloud, which has both benefits and drawbacks.

Baldwin gave a presentation at an April 23 work session of   the Sherburne County Board that highlighted what was found in the study. Chief among the recommendations was the need for more of a business mindset in running the operation.

Other recommendations, include:

•Reduce the deficit, which was $873,000 in 2018 (both direct and indirect).

•Enhance marketing, business development, and staffing.

•Transition to an authority form of governance.

•Board composed of business/professional based on minimum qualifications to serve.

Sherburne commissioners approved a resolution June 10 in support of the creation of an ad hoc committee that will prepare a resolution to create an airport authority no later than Sept. 1. The St. Cloud City Council approved a similar resolution on June 17, and Stearns County is expected to do the same on June 25. Benton County, viewed as another critical partner, is the one holdout.

The Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, which was founded in 2011, has been a champion of the effort, pulling players together and securing the study with the support of the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

“This has been discussed for five years, and we’re trying the keep the momentum up,” Sherburne County Administrator Steve Taylor said in his June 11 report to the board.

Board members agreed.

“It’s important we continue to move forward,” Sherburne County Board Chair Tim Dolan said. “We have identified it as an under-performing asset in our community.

“The study says it’s worth it. If we don’t do what the study says, we’d be doing a great disservice to the incremental progress we have made to this point.”

Commissioners Felix Schmiesing and Lisa Fobbe, who have served on the committee that has examined the future of the airport have been selected to serve on the committee. So will Assistant County Administrator Dan Weber or the next Sherburne County administrator that is hired.

“I think it’s time to try something new,” Fobbe said.

The city of St. Cloud has owned and operated the St. Cloud Regional Airport for 50 years.

It has financed operations and capital needs from a variety of sources including federal and state grants, regional local option sales tax and property taxes.

A regional advisory committee commissioned a study more than a year ago that it dubbed the Airport Optimization Study. It’s task was to identify and develop strategic initiatives to expand the economic impact of the airport in region. A diverse group did that and concluded that airport authority is needed.

The first step toward creating a regional authority is to form an ad hoc committee to recommend the composition of the prospective Airport Authority Board of Commissioners and to make recommendations to each respective governing body regarding appointments to the board.

Once the authority is established, the city of St. Cloud will by resolution continue to financially support, at its current level (or less) the airport for a maximum period of 10 years.

The resolution approved by Sherburne County and the others also calls for the city of St. Cloud to continue to support the airport with the local option sales tax pledged for the airport.

The city of St. Cloud will assign and transfer all property and rights to the airport authority, according to the resolution.

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