Council approves establishment of airport authority
When the Putnam County Council chose not to vote on a resolution to establish an airport authority in September, it was to give taxpayers a chance to speak.
While councilmen had heard the arguments for transitioning governance of the Putnam County from a board of airport commissioners (BOAC) to an airport authority, an affirmative vote meant new a new tax levy for county property owners.
Cautious with the citizens' money, the council chose a wait-and-see approach.
In the four weeks since that meeting the residents of the county have spoken -- with their silence.
Among the seven county councilmen, just one reported having received a call of concern about the tax increase.
Additionally, BOAC president J.R. Scott left his number with both the county auditor and treasurer, to be given to any resident calling expressing concern.
"I have not heard a thing," Scott said, noting that he even checked with the two offices to make sure.
Finally, among the couple dozen people at Tuesday's meeting, not one was in attendance to protest the measure.
With no overwhelming voices against the measure and having already heard the arguments in favor, councilman Dave Fuhrman made a motion to establish the airport authority, a move seconded by councilman Roger Deck.
The council voted 5-0 to establish the authority. Keith Berry was not in attendance due to the harvest, and president Darrell Thomas did not vote, as is his custom, except in the case of a tie.
The vote in favor of the resolution leaves just one hurdle to clear on the way to the airport authority's existence beginning in January -- a 30-day remonstrance period.
Within that time, a group of voters objecting to the resolution may file a remonstrance with the Putnam County Clerk's Office. If the remonstrance meets state guidelines in terms of number of voters who sign, the issue would be placed on the May 2014 ballot.
Again, Scott said he would leave his contact information with Clerk Marty Watts, should any citizen concerns arise.
County and airport representatives have emphasized at both the September and October meetings that although this a new property tax levy, its effects should be minimal.
The maximum allowed tax rate for an airport authority is 3.3 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Attorney Don Tribbett, who has advised other communities on the transition from BOAC to airport authority, said the tax rate approved by the state would likely be in the 2.5- to 2.8-cent range.
Putting that in home value terms, a $100,000 piece of property will likely see an annual increase of $25 to $28 on the property tax bill.
Even this effect should be lessened, council members pointed out. While the new levy will go into effect, the change means airport money will no longer be taken out of the county general fund, lessening the amount of tax money that needs to go into that pot.
One other concern was voiced by Greencastle Schools Superintendent Dawn Puckett, in attendance Tuesday for the corporation's budget approval. She asked what effect schools might expect with something else taking a piece of the tax pie.
Tribbett advised that in Logansport, it had no effect on schools and that in Frankfort the effect was actually positive.
"Generally an airport is a tool of economic development and that usually has a positive effect for everyone," Tribbett said.
Moreover, the airport authority would actually draw from a new tax levy, not take from the others. Even with property tax caps and circuit breakers, Putnam County's relatively low tax rate -- currently ninth-lowest in the state -- should keep the new tax levy from being a heavy burden on the public.
If no remonstrance is successfully filed, 2014 will be a transitional year in which there is an airport authority, but no money coming in from the levy. This means funding will come from the county general fund for one last year.
It will be up to the Putnam County Commissioners to choose the five-member airport authority board. All five members of the BOAC -- Scott, Rex Eaton, Perry Wainman, Duane Skoog and Vern Bothwell Jr. -- have expressed interest in transitioning to the new board.
Just after approval of the measure, Skoog stood up to praise Scott's leadership throughout the process.
"J.R. has done above and beyond work for this board and I, for one, would follow the guy anywhere," Skoog said. "We understand you've given us a lot of public trust and there is nobody better to give that trust to than that guy (Scott) right there."
The collection of more taxes will mean not only a larger operating budget for the airport annually, it will also give board members a chance to set aside money for future projects and matching grants, such as the recently approved FAA grant for the runway at the Putnam County Airport.
At last count, the airport remained $78,000 short of the $298,000 local match portion of the $3.9 million runway project.