Take to the skies
Council approves creation of municipal airport authority, four votes to three
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.
About 50 people tuned in as council debated the decision to create a municipal airport Monday night.