City commission moves forward with airport improvements

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What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday night, Manhattan city commissioners left City Hall as the future of larger jets visiting Manhattan Regional Airport was up in the air. In a press release on Friday, the city announced it had decided to accept an offer by American Airlines to begin bringing in 65-passenger CR7 planes.

A week ago, commissioners were turned off to the deal due to the high price of security improvements. A perimeter road and full time security personnel seemed like expenses the city could not handle in order to satisfy TSA regulations.

An American Airlines executive watched the meeting through public access television and reached out to city staff. City Manager Ron Fehr made the executive decision to accept the larger planes on Thursday.

City staff detailed four different security plans and funding mechanisms at Tuesday’s special city commission meeting, which followed the routine work session. A plan calling for contracted security personnel would cost the city $327,844.90 for the rest of the year. In order to fund the program for the rest of 2017, the city would postpone Capital Improvement Project items and use money saved on salt purchases due to the mild winter.

Future funding for the airport security turned out to cause some controversy among commissioners. Fehr recommended using multiple sources of revenue including the transient guest tax, economic development fund, industrial promotional fund, general fund, RCPD general fund and the city/university fund.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he would not vote for any recommendation which raised property taxes.

“Enough is enough on raising that mill levy,” Butler said. “If the airport is that important — and it’s economic development — then we got funds to do it. If it’s not that important… and we have to raise the mill levy… then something is fundamentally wrong with everything I’ve heard.”

Butler’s sentiment echoed that of John Ball, a Manhattan resident, who said raising property taxes would only place a greater burden on Manhattan’s fixed income and middle class population.

Commissioners expressed interest in the idea of approaching the Flint Hills Regional Council for help with funding considering many other counties in the region benefit from the flights. Rich Jankovich, a former city commissioner and member of the airport advisory board, had approached other municipalities nearly a decade ago and told the commission he had no success in gathering outside resources. While other communities have asked that the airport be renamed to better reflect its’ regional service, Jankovich said no one is willing to put forth any money to do so.

Commissioner Linda Morse moved to approve the city administration’s 2017 recommended funding strategy and give city staff permission to work toward finding funding for 2018 and beyond. The vote passed 4-to-1, with Butler opposing.

In other business, the commission heard a preemptive update on the 2018 budget from Bernie Hayen, director of finance. While there is not a budget work session scheduled until May, Hayen told commissioners he is working to grasp the levity of the tax lid which takes effect in 2018. The “eleventh hour” law was passed at the end of the 2015 legislative session without a hearing. Hayen expects the mill levy to raise 3.4 mills. Manhattan’s mill levy is currently 48.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

Manhattan Chamber of Commerce CEO Lyle Butler delivered a quarterly report, where he detailed two small business programs the state government is planning to place on moratorium.

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