County Denies Airport’s Request for Additional Funding

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Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Photo

SWEETWATER COUNTY– The Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport requested a budget amendment at today’s Sweetwater County Commissioner meeting, in which the airport asked for $133,333 of additional funding for the design phase of the Commercial Terminal Modernization Project.

The commissioners voted 3-2 against the budget request.

No Action Taken on Initial Request for Additional Funding

The airport board first requested funding for this project in September 2018, initially asking for $711,111 from the county, and asking for $355,556 from the City of Rock Springs.

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This funding would help the airport start designing the terminal modernization project and also help secure a Supplemental Airport Improvement grant.

The City of Rock Springs approved the request at their September 18 city council meeting, however, the Sweetwater County Commissioners tabled the request, neither making a motion for or against the request.

The airport later decreased their funding request to $133,333 from the county and to $66,667 from the City of Rock Springs. According to Devon Brubaker, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport director, this funding would cover the design work that does not have a shelf life.

A Dead Motion

At the October 16 Sweetwater County Commissioner meeting, the commission voted 3-2 against un-tabling the motion. Commissioners Wally Johnson and John Kolb said that the motion died as there was no action taken on it, and therefore could not be un-tabled.

Legal counsel later confirmed this. Since the commissioners did not make a motion for or against the request, the motion died and could no longer be acted on.

Also, with the decrease in funding being requested, it needed to be brought to the commissioners as a new request with a new public hearing.

City of Rock Springs Grants $200,000 of Additional Funding

With no action being taken on the request by the county, and with the quickly approaching October 31 deadline, the airport asked the City of Rock Springs for $200,000 of additional funding, less than the initial request that was already approved, but more than the decreased amount.

The council unanimously approved the request at their October 16 meeting.

Gambling with Sweetwater County Residents’ Dollars

Commissioners Wally Johnson and John Kolb said their issues with the request for additional funding has nothing to do with whether they approve of the renovation or not, but rather has to do with “gambling” with the county residents’ dollars.

Johnson said they are throwing money on the table, trying to enhance the airport’s chances at success for securing the grant, but it isn’t a sure bet.

Brubaker said that it does not just enhance the airport’s chances at securing the grant, but also aids in the design and preparation of the project for the future.

“In the long term, this work would need to be done when the project happens anyway,” Brubaker said. At a previous commissioner meeting, Brubaker said this project is needed for the future, because without it the airport will not meet certain building codes.

Questioning Why County Funding is Needed

Another issue Commissioner Johnson said he had was that he did not see why the airport needed funding from the county at this time. The application for the grant was already submitted and the City of Rock Springs approved the $200,000 funding request.

“Apparently you have enough money now from the City of Rock Springs to go forward, so at this point in time, it appears to me you don’t need additional funding from the county,” Johnson said.

Jim Wamsley, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Board Chairperson, said that being a joint powers board, the airport is asking Sweetwater County to fund their portion of the project.

Money Should be Spent in Sweetwater County

Commissioner Johnson also had an issue with the project being done by a firm that is not located in Sweetwater County. Johnson said he has a responsibility to the local firms. The engineering firm hired by the airport, T-O Engineers, is based out of Cody, Wyoming.

“Money should be spent first of all in Sweetwater County, then in the State of Wyoming, and as a last resort outside the state,” Johnson said.

The airport is required to hire a firm for airport planning and for engineering. Last year, the airport selected T-O Engineers to work with them for a five-year basis. Wamsley said the firm was already hired for the airport’s engineering projects and was not hired for this project specifically.

Budgeting Process Allows for Transparency and Input

Commissioner Don Van Matre said that, traditionally, all capital-type improvement projects, such as this airport project, have gone through the budgeting process. He said there have been very few exceptions to this.

Through the budgeting process, the public gets to comment, and the commission hears input and recommendations from the Sweetwater County department directors.

“That process has served this commission well for many years,” Van Matre said. He added that without the budgeting process, “We don’t get enough transparency and we don’t get enough input.”

Brubaker said that Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 in March, which provided additional federal funding for airport infrastructure improvements.

It wasn’t until June that he received guidance of which kinds of airports and projects would be eligible for the funding.

Commissioner Kolb told Brubaker that had plenty of time to bring this project before the commission before the county’s budget was set.

The Vote

Commissioners Reid West and Randy Wendling voted in favor of the budget amendment request, while Commissioners Johnson, Van Matre, and Kolb voted against it.

In a 3-2 vote, the budget request was not approved.

About the Funding

In March, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which provided a supplemental appropriation of $1 billion in additional federal discretionary funding for airport infrastructure improvements.

The Act is dedicated to smaller, non-hub and general aviation airports. This Act is a supplemental appropriation of the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) which provides a grant of about $3.5 billion to airports annually for improvements.