Airport Vote Was Best Option

By Beacon Staff

There are some citizens who are disappointed that the Kalispell City Council did not make a final decision on the Kalispell City Airport on May 21. I am also disappointed, even though I made the motion to put to the vote of the citizens of Kalispell a referendum on the November general election ballot that will ask the voters to choose between the EXPANSION of the airport using $13.5 million in FAA funds and $2.5 million in Airport Tax Increment Funds versus REHABILITATION of the airport using an approximate $2 million in Airport Tax Increment Funds.

I am disappointed because this very important decision, which will affect the citizens of Kalispell for many years, was not clearly supported by two-thirds majority of the council. The airport is a lot like Buffalo Hill Golf Course, although not exactly. When municipal, special interest property is leased it must have a two-thirds vote of the council or be put to a vote of the electorate. The city has a number of leases outstanding at the airport that are involved.

The motion also carried the stipulation that the ballot language must be approved by the council in June in order to get on the November ballot. This stipulation is important, as we all know how confusing the wording on a ballot can become.

There are people whom are understandably disappointed that the vote does not address the issue of closing the airport. The council did weigh this issue in various public meetings. Here is why: There have been significant private investments in hangers and businesses at the airport. These investments were made in the faith the airport would remain at its present location. Hence, to simply close the airport would require expenditure from city funds, greater than either voter option, to buy out privately built facilities on the airport property. It would also result in persons losing faith in doing business in Kalispell.

Some people wanted to move the airport to the West Valley area. I don’t believe it was ever clear to any member of the council why the city would want to own an airport in the county. The cost to extend the infrastructure to the new location in West Valley, which would have to be borne by city money, would add perhaps several million to the cost to even the expanded airport ballot measure. Plus having to deal with opposition of the new neighbors.

The option to “do nothing” is what has been happening over the last 10 years and more. That has added to the cost of just doing what should be routine maintenance.

There are other issues that must be dealt with on the maintenance and operation of the airport. Once the basic issue of whether to rehabilitate or expand the airport is settled by the owners of the property, Kalispell residents, the remaining problems can probably be solved without rancor.

Bob Hafferman
Kalispell City Councilor

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