Take to the skies

Coun­cil ap­proves cre­ation of mu­nic­i­pal air­port au­thor­ity, four votes to three

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - COMING UP - JOSHUA SAN­TOS

Com­mer­cial air­craft may soon zip through the clouds from Moose Jaw, as coun­cil ap­proved a plan to es­tab­lish a mu­nic­i­pal air­port au­thor­ity Mon­day night.

The ap­proval, how­ever, had a rocky take­off.

Coun. Chris War­ren, Coun. Scott McMann, Coun. Crys­tal Froese and Mayor Fraser Tolmie voted in favour, while Coun. Brian Swan­son, Coun. Don Mitchell and Coun. Dawn Luh­n­ing stood op­posed.

The City of Moose Jaw will keep own­er­ship of the air­port lands and fa­cil­ity while the new group, the Moose Jaw Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port Au­thor­ity Work­ing Group (MJAAWG), will op­er­ate it. The group plans to ex­tend the run­way and even ex­pand the air­port at cost of $2.9 mil­lion.

The board will be com­prised of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 15 Wing and CAE (Canadian Avi­a­tion Elec­tron­ics), among oth­ers. Elected of­fi­cials voiced their opin­ions once again, hav­ing dis­cussed the is­sue in a meet­ing last week, but this time to ap­prox­i­mately 50 cit­i­zens.

Tolmie said there are two ar­eas of growth for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the city: one is for ex­ist­ing busi­ness and two is at­tract­ing other busi­nesses to the com­mu­nity.

“When I talk about busi­nesses look­ing to grow, they want to be able to have ac­cess to out­side the city’s bor­ders and be­ing able to use our air­port is a ben­e­fit to them to have that ac­cess,” Tolmie said.

He men­tioned a con­ver­sa­tion he had with a busi­ness owner who is look­ing to grow their busi­ness and at­tract an­other busi­ness in the city of Moose Jaw.

Tolmie said the city - with its pop­u­la­tion of 33,890, ac­cord­ing to 2016 Statis­tics Canada cen­sus data - is look­ing to grow.

“I am sup­port­ing this mo­tion. I be­lieve the mu­nic­i­pal air­port au­thor­ity is the right way to move for­ward and I’d like to see the ben­e­fits of that in the fu­ture for the city,” Tolmie said.

Swan­son showed a three-page re­port of mu­nic­i­pal air­ports that have closed in re­cent years, not­ing that 28 of them are in Saskatchewan.

He ex­pressed dire con­cern that any fed­eral and pro­vin­cial money for the air­port would take away from in­fra­struc­ture projects such wa­ter pipe­line main­te­nance.

“I be­lieve ev­ery dol­lar that would go to the mu­nic­i­pal air­port from fed­eral and pro­vin­cial money is a dol­lar less that will come to the city of Moose Jaw for its in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments,” Swan­son said.

He noted the well-known woes of the cast iron wa­ter­main re­place­ment pro­gram and the re­cent ap­proval of a $19-mil­lion con­tract for the cre­ation of the wa­ter­line from the Buf­falo Pound Wa­ter Treat­ment Plant.

“The pro­vi­sion of wa­ter to our cit­i­zens is of the ut­most pri­or­ity and as of now, is be­ing fi­nanced to­tally on our tax base,” said Swan­son.

In sup­port of the air­port pro­ject, War­ren cited the ex­panded run­way, ex­pan­sion of the fa­cil­ity, po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tion with 15 Wing Moose Jaw and ben­e­fits to the tourism in­dus­try.

He also said the ini­tial in­vest­ment it­self is ap­prox­i­mately 17 per cent of the en­tire cost of the pro­ject.

The city has ear­marked $500,000 from the re­serve fund, which MJAAWG will use to ac­cess fed­eral and pro­vin­cial fund­ing. If and when that hap­pens, the city would then con­trib­ute an­other $500,000, which the group would then pay back.

If money is not se­cured from other lev­els of gov­ern­ment by Dec. 31 2019, the ini­tial $500,000 will be re­turned to the city.

“This is go­ing to open up the door to po­ten­tially more cor­po­rate en­ti­ties that want to come in here and set up shop and do busi­ness in Moose Jaw,” War­ren said. “Which brings in tax dol­lars and fam­i­lies into the com­mu­nity.”

War­ren ac­knowl­edged the sup­port from the Moose Jaw and District Cham­ber of Com­merce and said hun­dreds of jobs in the com­mu­nity are di­rectly re­lated to the air­port as it stands right now. He also said the city needs to con­tinue to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture, as they are, and noted the spinoffs of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, say­ing they are too great to ig­nore, with po­ten­tial jobs in tourism and re­tail.

“Our ex­pen­di­tures on our pave­ments and our sew­ers and our wa­ter­lines are at a all-time high in cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures. Our long-term cap­i­tal plans are be­ing ap­proved,” War­ren said. “We also need to in­vest in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.”

Luh­n­ing said the com­mu­nity would see a two per cent tax in­crease – as per last year’s bud­get num­bers - even if they re­ceive fund­ing from fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments for the pro­ject.

She said the money for the air­port does not ben­e­fit the en­tire com­mu­nity, but a few spe­cial in­ter­est groups and cit­i­zens.

“This is not what the city should be spend­ing its money on. Funds should ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity as a whole and there is no proof that this fund­ing will do that,” Luh­n­ing said. “It’s sim­ply hearsay and spec­u­la­tion.”

She was dis­ap­pointed the op­tion of pri­va­ti­za­tion was not ex­plored in depth dur­ing last week’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee meet­ing.

“We can­not con­tinue to ask the tax­pay­ers for tax in­creases for items that they see no value in,” said Luh­n­ing. “All cit­i­zens should see the ben­e­fit of any kind of in­crease in taxes and I’m not con­vinced that this is go­ing to hap­pen.”

She said in­fra­struc­ture, snow re­moval and garbage col­lec­tion should be pri­or­i­tized.

JOSHUA SAN­TOS/TIMES-HER­ALD

About 50 peo­ple tuned in as coun­cil de­bated the de­ci­sion to cre­ate a mu­nic­i­pal air­port Mon­day night.

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