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11:55 PM Fri, Oct. 19th

Prescott pushes ahead with new airport terminal plan

The Prescott Airport.

Photo by Max Efrein.

The Prescott Airport.

In a community accustomed to landing at the top of national lists for charm and history, any showing among “the worst” is rare.

But that is exactly what Prescott Airport Director Robin Sobotta has been hearing from prospective airline carriers about the city’s 70-year-old airport terminal.

Sobotta, who has been communicating with multiple airlines in preparation for the July 2 bid deadline for the city’s new commercial carrier, told the Prescott City Council Tuesday, May 22, that the 1948-era terminal has raised concerns.

“I’ve heard (from airline prospects) that we are one of the top four or five most challenging terminals to go into in the U.S.,” Sobotta said.

The challenges are nothing new for the city. A new airport terminal has been on the drawing board for decades, but a lack of funding has been a consistent obstacle.

Now, Sobotta said, “It looks like we have the ability to bring the terminal to the front burner.”

In the coming three fiscal years, the city appears poised to budget the money to get the project completed.

The proposed 2018/2019 fiscal-year budget includes $450,000 for the terminal design, and the airport’s five-year capital plan includes $6 million for terminal construction in the following two fiscal years (2020 and 2021).

BUDGET OVERVIEW

The airport was just one of a number of departments that the City Council discussed Tuesday during its budget workshop for the 2019 fiscal-year, which begins July 1.

At the conclusion of the three-hour workshop, the council decided that another workshop would not be necessary.

The next council discussion on the proposed budget is scheduled during the tentative budget adoption on June 26, and at a public hearing and adoption of the final budget on July 10.

Overall, Budget and Finance Director Mark Woodfill told the council that the proposed budget shows minimal growth – from $188.8 million this year to $191.3 million next year, for about 1.3-percent growth.

One category that is up significantly is the city’s revenues. With the sales tax for the general fund and street improvements up by 6 percent, the city is expecting revenues to grow from $30.2 million this year to $32 million next year.

In addition, the three-fourths percent pension-related sales tax that went into effect Jan. 1, 2018, is expected to show 100-percent growth – from $6 million this year to $12 million next year — by virtue of its full year of existence.

Bed tax (on hotel, motel, and short-term rentals) is also expected to grow significantly, from $880,000 this year to about $1.1 million next year.

Overall, the city expects its revenue to growth from $135.9 million in fiscal-year 2018 to about $149 million in fiscal-year 2019.

At the same time, expenses are going up. While general operating expenses are expected to stay nearly the same (up 0.3 percent), the entire $12 million from the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) sales tax will go to pay down the city’s unfunded pension liability, for 100-percent growth. In addition, capital-improvement projects are slated to grow by 12.4 percent — from $73.3 million to $82.4 million.

‘UNASSIGNED’ FUND

Unlike this year, however, the city likely will not be making an additional payment from its reserve fund to the PSPRS. In budget year 2018, the city paid $11 million from its “unassigned” reserves to pay down the PSPRS unfunded liability.

Woodfill told the council that this year’s unassigned balance is expected to total about $2 million. City staff is not recommending that any of that amount go to PSPRS.

Rather, Woodfill recommended that the money be reserved to go toward coming costs, such as the airport terminal construction.

To possibly help offset some of the $6 million terminal-construction cost, Sobotta said a $1 billion Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization is making its way through the U.S. Congress for small and rural airports.

She told the council she plans to make a bid to stake out some of that money for the Prescott terminal project – possibly for as much as $3 million through a 50-50 match.

(Watch the Daily Courier for further coverage of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019).