The interim manager and board members from the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport got a mixed response Monday after pleading for more funding from Lewiston City Council at its 2020 budget hearing.
The city is already proposing a $150,000 increase over last year’s approximate $200,000 appropriation. But interim airport Manager Clarence W. “Bill” McKown Jr. asked for additional funds to help remodel the second floor of the terminal into additional passenger-holding space.
McKown said that amenity will be a crucial bit of bait when a committee goes fishing for a new carrier to replace service lost when Horizon Air left the facility last year because of low ticket sales. But city councilors, such as John Pernsteiner, questioned making the expenditure before an additional carrier is locked in.
Nez Perce County is proposing a much larger contribution to the airport of $581,000. During the public hearing on the 2020 budget, County Commissioner Douglas Havens said the city’s proposed contribution doesn’t do enough to support what he called the community’s greatest asset.
“It sure doesn’t answer the question of economic development,” Havens said. “The timing is critical. We’ve got to do it when the timing is right.”
And Airport Authority board member Gary Peters said having the new holding space will give the airport something to sell when recruiting new passenger air service. Board member Chris Hayes, who served on the board years ago and was even the manager for a period, offered up a mea culpa from his first term on the board.
“We probably rested on our laurels a little too much,” he said, noting the board should have done more maintenance years ago to avoid the costly items, like asphalt repairs, that now pose safety issues.
Councilor Jim Kleeburg was more open to funneling additional funds to the airport. He said he would do some homework and come back to next Monday’s second budget reading with a proposal to shift some economic development money from the Community Development Department to the airport.
The airport wasn’t the only entity that came to the first budget hearing to ask for money. Several members of the Lewiston Civic Theatre asked the council to restore the $32,200 annual appropriation that it took away when the city condemned its longtime home on Sixth Avenue when a large roof truss failed.
The theatre turned ownership of the building over to the city because it couldn’t afford insurance or demolition costs, and the city took its support away to help cover annual maintenance costs while a separate foundation looks for ways to save the historic former church building.
Councilors like Kleeburg and Bob Blakey commended the organization for its contributions to the community, but said they should have approached the council earlier in the budget process with a formal request. Councilor Cari Miller learned there is about $60,000 in unspent funds in the council’s contingency budget that will roll over to the 2020 general fund if it isn’t used in the current fiscal year.
The council approved the first reading of the budget 6-0, with Mayor Mike Collins absent. Two more readings over the next two Mondays will have to be approved before the council can consider final approval.
The overall budget is up approximately $12 million over last year to about $80 million, but nearly all of that increase comes from improvements to the water and wastewater treatment plants that are funded by utility rate increases enacted last year. Property taxes are largely flat, with an approximate $3.50 annual increase per $100,000 taxable assessed value.
Councilors also unanimously approved a 1.5 percent increase to water rates that will change the base rate for 100 cubic feet of water from $2.67 to $2.71.
Mills may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2266.