Your airport is a bargain, taxpayers

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The anonymous letter to the editor asked a fair question: Because the vast majority of Kootenai County residents don’t fly into or out of the Coeur d’Alene Airport, why should they pay for it?

“Problem is the Kootenai County commissioners and others want to dump a lot of money into refurbishing an airport that taxpayers have to pay for but don’t use,” the writer wrote.

The writer went on to say he or she was told by a former airport employee that someone has an especially sweet deal: Leasing a hangar big enough for a Lear jet and classic cars for the low, low price of $200 a year.

“I have to pay $80 a month for a 20-foot storage unit for personal items. It’s just not right,” the writer wrote. “People who use the Coeur d’Alene Airport should pay for the improvements if needed, not Kootenai County taxpayers.”

We’ll skip the social contract discussion about how all citizens with a stake in their community — meaning property ownership and therefore, taxes — agree to share costs for the common good, like education, police and fire protection and, yes, public facilities like airports. Let’s get to the meat of this particular puzzle.

Airport Director Steven Kjergaard says hangar space depends on aircraft size, but generally speaking, older leases go for $4,000 to $6,000 per year and some of the new lots on the north side of the airport go for more than $30,000 annually. Airport officials are in the earliest stages of moving lease rates higher, an ongoing story this newspaper has been covering.

Bigger picture, what do taxpayers get for their money, even if they never fly into or out of their airport? Let us count just a few of the ways.

JOBS: Coeur d’Alene Airport is home to a number of companies that rely heavily on air transport for their products and services. According to a 2009 Idaho Transportation Department economic study, 1,059 jobs were linked directly to our airport. That number has increased significantly in the past decade, although no new studies have been done.

PAYROLL: All those jobs brought $40.7 million into the community annually. Again, that number is unquestionably higher today.

IMPACT: The total economic impact of the airport, according to the transportation department, was $129.8 million annually. Even if no growth had occurred since 2009, that’s well over a $1 billion positive economic impact to our community since the study was done.

BOTTOM LINE: If you take away those jobs, those payroll dollars and that huge yearly economic windfall, what do you have? Among many other things, you’ve got taxpayers who suddenly have to pay for a larger share of the overall tax base. You also have poorer schools, worse roads, reduced police and fire services — basically, a significantly lower quality of life.

Our airport is a powerful economic engine that generates far more for taxpayers than it takes from them. In our view, it’s one of the best deals around.

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