County explores airport alternative

Minden-Tahoe Airport would have to raise nearly $5 million over the next five years to pay for maintenance should federal money dry up.

Douglas County is working on a ballot initiative that would alter the airport weight ordinance in an effort to comply with federal regulations.

The Federal Aviation Administration has sent several letters threatening the county with the elimination of funding if it doesn't change the weight limits listed in federal documents. County commissioners were told in August that $684,474 in federal funding was withheld due to the county's failure to alter the entry in federal publications.

The county is considering three options and is scheduled to decide which to present to voters in November.

According to a report to be presented to Douglas County commissioners on Thursday, there's $1.5 million in the budget to defray the $5 million over the next five years county officials say will be required to maintain the airport at its current level.

Assistant County Manager Steven Mokorhisky identified 18 projects that he said would have to be done to maintain the airport.

"The projection concludes that after spending all airport reserves on required maintenance over the next five years, the airport would still need to find $3.5 million in other local funding to maintain its infrastructure."

Sources of the maintenance money could come from landing fees, room tax funds and the general fund.

Mokrohisky said that at most the airport could raise $20,000 by increasing landing fees on transient aircraft heavier than 12,500 pounds.

The county collects $2.8 million in transient occupancy or room tax. In the 1990s, the library and parks shared that funding with the airport.

Trying to fund the airport with room tax money would result in a shift of money away from the other two areas.

Using general fund money might be trickier, and would require an interpretation of the airport weight ordinance by the district attorney's office.

The ordinance says that general fund money may not be used for modifications or improvements.

"If general funds could be used, the Board of County Commissioners could choose to shift the property tax collections paid by airport businesses and tenants from the general fund to the airport for maintenance work," Mokrohisky wrote.

The weight limit listed in the federal airport layout plan was the same as that revised by voters in 1992 and that's listed in the county ordinance now on the books.

However, a Nevada Department of Transportation assessment in 2002 said that "operations of an aircraft in the 60,000 pound and 75,000 pound classes, if restricted from a few areas, should not have a significant impact on pavement performance."

Part of the problem is that most airport work is funded by federal dollars. In the nearly quarter century between 1984 when the first airport ordinance was approved and 2008, the federal government has poured $18.75 million into the airport.

Each time the county took money from the federal government, its representatives signed assurances that the airport would be maintained for the next 20 years.

n County commissioners will also receive an update on the 2009 Motocross Track Park. Commissioners will review testimony and letters received by the Douglas County Parks & Recreation Commission on the track.

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