Mini-Cassia’s senator is considering legislation to allow for the creation of local airport districts, a move that would provide another option to relocate the Burley airport.
The airport is owned by the city of Burley, which has been trying for more than 20 years to move it. In 2016, an airport task force identified two possible sites, one south of Interstate 84 north of Exit 216 and one north of there. Currently, an engineering company is working on a master plan for the airport.
Economic development leaders say keeping an airport in Mini-Cassia is a must if the region wants to continue to attract new businesses. But others in the region have been skeptical about the need for a new airport, despite warnings the current one doesn’t meet safety standards, and have raised concerns about where it would go and who would pay for it.
Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Rupert, who is also the Rupert city administrator, said officials in Burley have been considering an airport district or similar model and that he wants to explore how the legislature may help.
Anthon stressed he is not necessarily in favor of creating an airport district to build a new airport, but that airport districts don’t even exist under Idaho law now.
“I’m not advocating it, I want to be very clear about that … but my constituents are telling me the option is not even available,” Anthon said Wednesday.
The bill is still in the discussion stage, but it would likely work similarly to most other taxing districts — voters would have to approve its creation, then it would be run by a board that would set its budget and levy property taxes to help pay for it.
That option may be especially attractive to Burley, since it could potentially allow other communities to share the costs of maintaining the regional airport.
Another potential plus to an airport district, Anthon said, is its stability compared with a “joint powers agreement” between municipalities, since a city or county that enters such an agreement can also withdraw from it, usually with a year’s notice.
“If you’re trying to run an airport, that’s not going to be a very appealing way to go about it,” he said.
Also, Anthon said, a separate district takes the need to manage an airport and support it financially out of the hands of local governments that might not necessarily be interested. And, it puts the decision to move the Burley airport in the hands of the voters, since they would need to create the district.
“I think if they’re going to move the airport” it should be because “people should decide it’s the best thing for our community,” Anthon said.