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BREAKING NEWS

Airport runway extension dead, but not runway reconstruction

By Staff | Mar 20, 2010

With the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) putting the kibosh on plans to expand the airport runway in Blue Earth by 1,200 feet, some readers may think the issue is dead.

Far from it.

Although the FAA said no to the runway extension, they still are in favor of funding a reconstruction of the current runway and putting in a taxiway and apron area.

What that means is the Blue Earth City Council still has to decide whether to move ahead with this so-called scaled down project.

While the engineer with Bolton and Menk did not give any estimate of the cost of this reconstruction project, it isn’t too hard to take a look at past figures and estimate it to still be around $3-4 million.

With the FAA footing 95 percent of that bill, the city’s share is still going to be around $150,000 to $200,000.

Not exactly chump change. It is an amount that will still require a bond sale to finance, I would imagine.

Should it be done? There may be some who decry spending that kind of money during a budget crunch time. They make a good point.

However, the flip side of the coin is having a chance to get a total re-do of the airport and only having to pony up five percent of the bill.

It is a deal, no matter what anyone says.

Some may argue it would be nice to spend that $3-4 million on the city’s streets, which we all know are in awful condition.

While I agree it would be great to spend that much to fix up streets, it just isn’t going to happen. The money is earmarked for one purpose, and one purpose only – airport upgrades.

Besides, if you think about it for a second, the runway is a ‘street’ of sorts. It is pavement, and tires run on it.

There are those who may argue that Blue Earth should not accept the millions in federal dollars for the airport, and the money should go back into the government’s coffers. After all, they need it to help bail out banks, or car dealers, or someone.

That thought doesn’t wash either. The dollars for airport upgrading come from taxes on airline tickets and taxes on aircraft fuel.

It is designated to go towards airports, of all sizes, all over the country.

In other words, if Blue Earth doesn’t take it, the funds will just wander down the road to the next city looking to upgrade its airport.

During this time of budget cuts, adding an expense for reconstructing the runway may seem like a bad idea.

However, in some ironic twist of financial logic, the city is actually at an advantage to go into some debt. It has to do with levy limits.

The state, while cutting LGA, also can limit the amount the city can levy for our property taxes. Because the City of Blue Earth is deemed to be in good financial shape, the amount the city can levy is limited. Having extra debt can raise that levy limit.

Two years ago the city had the double whammy of being forced to trim the budget, and being forced by the state to lower the local property tax levy from the previous year.

Now, the state has agreed cities may ‘levy back’ the amounts the state cuts in LGA payments.

What does all of that mean to us?

Well, my guess is, we will have fewer services. And higher taxes.

Because these state cuts have been so dramatic, cities will be forced to up their local property taxes. But, they won’t be able to raise them enough to cover everything, so cuts will also have to be made.

With the state facing an upcoming budget deficit even worse than the current one (five times worse by some estimates) this scenario is more than just conjecture.

In fact, it is downright scary.

Something has got to give. It has become time to overhaul the whole system. Figure out a new way to fund local and state governments, and determine just what it is that these public bodies should be funding.

And what they shouldn’t.

Our local legislators said as much at a recent forum held in Blue Earth. But, they also say any type of overhaul is virtually impossible.

Rep. Tony Cornish says he feels the legislature is incapable of doing it, and a wholly separate task force needs to come in an ‘clean house.’

Not a bad idea.