By Kari Petrie
St. Cloud is moving forward with forming a regional airport authority to fund and govern the St. Cloud Regional Airport.
The City Council discussed Monday how the authority would operate with the city and Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties. The discussion was a part of a study session, and no vote was taken.
The city will be putting together a resolution in the coming weeks that will go to the council and county boards for final approval.
“This is the recognition that this is a regional asset that needs the strength of the region behind it,” City Administrator Mike Williams said.
The regional authority would operate as its own entity that could levy taxes and purchase property, City Attorney Matt Staehling said. It could issue bonds to build infrastructure and create its own rules and regulations.
The city would continue to own the current property and buildings. The authority would mean the counties would share operating costs for the airport, instead of the $475,000 budget coming out of St. Cloud’s property taxes alone.
Forming the authority is just one part of the city’s effort to improve the airport. The city has been trying to attract a new carrier to the airport since Dec. 31, 2009, when Delta stopped its regional flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Last month Allegiant Air announced that it will start service to Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport in December.
But getting service to Chicago remains a priority for the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation and others.
Local business travel commitments valued at $6.1 million have been set aside to bring service to Chicago. There is also a $750,000 grant from the Small Community Air Service Development program, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the efforts of local counties, cities and other entities have pushed the amount that can be used as a guarantee for service to about $1 million.
Mayor Dave Kleis said the city continues to talk to a number of airlines in the hopes of attracting service.
Council member Jeff Johnson, who teaches aviation at St. Cloud State University, spoke about the shortage of pilots and how that might impact the airport’s efforts to attract a carrier with service to Chicago. St. Cloud State is phasing out its aviation program.
Johnson said a carrier might be more likely to bring service to St. Cloud if it helps solve the issue of pilot shortages. An airline carrier might stop service to St. Cloud if there is a need to have those pilots work on different routes, he said.