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City considers $1.2M tax for airport project (08/04/2013)
By Chris Rogers
Latsch Island will be added to industrial Park

On Monday, the Winona City Council is expected to vote on increasing property taxes by $1.26 million without voter approval. The tax hike would be used to pay for renovations to the municipal airport. More specifically, it will finance borrowing for renovations. Typically, under Minnesota law, a majority of voters must approve such a bonding project and tax increase in a voter referendum. However, special powers given to port authorities under state law allow them to borrow and tax for improvements to industrial parks without seeking voter approval. The Winona Port Authority plans to designate the airport as an industrial park in order to avoid the need for voter approval. Under state law, the Port Authority needs approval from the City Council, but not voters.

City Manager Judy Bodway explained that the arrangement makes it "more efficient" to fund the project.

Whereas the designation of the airport as an industrial park has yet to be formally considered by the Winona Port Authority, and there has been no opportunity for public comment, it is the foundation of the funding scheme the council will vote on Monday night.

City staff and the Port Authority had plans to designate the Lake Park bike path as a industrial park, and to pair borrowing and taxing for the bike path with the airport project, before city staff made an executive decision to seek private funding for the bike path.

The airport project will extend the airport's runway and install new guidance systems. The total cost of the project has been estimated at $12 million. State and federal aviation agencies are expected to fund 90 percent of that total. However, it is unclear whether the city will receive the first stage of funding for the three-year project this year or whether it will postponed. Federal and state officials have said they will announce this month whether the project will receive funds in 2013.

Advocates of the project have stressed the economic value of providing convenient air transportation to area businesses. In one unusually busy day, the airport hosted private jets from Plasticomp, Quadrigraphics, and Baxter Medical, said Fixed Base Operator George Bolon.

The City Council will meet to discuss the airport bond on Monday at 6 p.m. at city hall. The Port Authority will hold a public hearing on designating the airport as an industrial park on Thursday at 4 p.m at city hall. 


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