SWEETWATER COUNTY — During their meeting Tuesday, the Sweetwater County Commissioners agreed to provide a $222,222 in county matching funds for funding for the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Commercial Terminal Modernization Project.
The project is an $18.5 million expansion which is primarily being funded by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and WYDOT. While FAA is contributing just under $13 million, WYDOT is providing $1.5 million. The airport board is also planning to go out for a Wyoming Business Council grant for $3 million.
However, Airport Director Devon Brubaker said the challenge the airport is currently facing is covering costs for the designs until the grants come through, as they are all reimbursable grants.
The cost of the designs is $1.6 million, which carries well past the airport’s 20 days cash on hand, according to Brubaker. He said the board has been trying to find solutions to reduce the amount needed to come up with for the designs.
WYDOT recently moved $500,000 of their commitment from 2022 to 2021, so those grant monies will be in hand by the end of the week, Brubaker said. This grant funding comes with a $333,333 local cash match. In accordance with the Joint Powers Board agreement, Sweetwater County is responsible for two-thirds of the match, or $222,222. The City of Rock Springs would be responsible for $111,111.
The designers have agreed to finance the remainder of the costs for the designs, which is approximately $780,000, at 0 percent interest. This means the airport is left with covering the $333,333 local match.
Brubaker presented three options for the County Commissioners to consider in moving forward with funding for the commercial terminal modernization project.
The first option would be to have the county commit to the full local match for the entire project, which is about $850,000. The City of Rock Springs’ responsibility would be $425,000.
Brubaker said this would be the most beneficial option for the airport, as it would show the Wyoming Business Council that the county is in support of the project and has committed to providing matching local funds for the project.
The second option was to provide the $222,222 of matching funds for the WYDOT grant. Brubaker said this is an immediate need, but does not provide certainty for longterm funding.
The third option, what Brubaker called the “nuclear options” would be to provide no local match and turn back $17.1 million of funding to the FAA and WYDOT.
The decision ultimately came between the first and second option. For both options, the county would be invoiced monthly for either the full $850,000 or the $222,222. Brubaker said the county would be invoiced monthly until roughly September 2022 for full funding and until about September 2021 for the second option.
Chairman Randy “Doc” Wendling and Commissioner Jeff Smith both spoke in favor of providing the full local match, as they have made a commitment to the airport to support this project.
“It’s what we say we’re going to do eventually,” Commissioner Smith said.
Smith added that the local match comes out to be about 5 percent of the overall cost of the project.
“I don’t think there’s any one of us that wouldn’t put in 5 percent to get something worthwhile accomplished,” he said.
Chairman Wendling said the county should show they are committed to the project to secure the most amount of funding possible from the Wyoming Business Council.
“We have to have ourselves presented in a position to let them know we’re committed to see this project through, and put ourselves in the best position to get as much money from them as possible,” Wendling said.
Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld supported providing at least the $222,222, as the airport is important for economic development and local industry.
“This airport is a key to economic development for our community,” Schoenfeld said.
Commissioner Roy Lloyd said he believes in supporting the airport and believes the funding secured so far is a “bang for the buck”. However, he noted that if the Wyoming Business Council grant was not secured, the county match would be $2.3 million.
“That does become difficult for me,” Lloyd said.
He pointed out that the county has recently decided not to replace 10 positions and has implemented a hiring freeze to cut back on costs due to the economic downturn. With the economic hardships, he said he would support option two, but not the first option.
Commissioner Smith first moved to approve option one, with a second from Commissioner Schoenfeld. Commissioner Wally Johnson asked for a roll call vote in which Commissioners Schoenfeld, Johnson, and Lloyd all voted no, while Commissioner Smith and Chairman Wendling voted yes.
Schoenfeld then made a second motion to approve option two, in which the commissioners unanimously voted yes. The commissioners also designated Krisena Marchal, County Grants Manager, to prepare a letter of support for the project on behalf of the Sweetwater County Commissioners.
An official budget amendment will be placed on the agenda for the November 3 meeting.