County Council President floats idea of voter referendum on airport authority

A view of the Warsaw Municipal Airport terminal earlier this year. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.
By David Slone
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — Kosciusko County Council President Mike Long hopes the old courtroom is packed Thursday night when the council has a special meeting on a city-county airport authority.

He’d also personally like to see the authority be voted on in a referendum instead of by the seven-member county council, but he said they’ll play it out and see how it goes.

Long said he has his personal feelings on the issue, but he’ll keep those to himself for now.

“It’s too big of a decision for us to make for the taxpayers of Kosciusko County,” he said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 6 in the old courtroom of the county courthouse, 100 W. Center St., Warsaw.

Warsaw Municipal Airport Manager Nick King will be given 30 minutes to present the proposal for the Municipal Airport shifting to a city-county airport authority.

Long said state Rep. Craig Snow may also present on the authority, but Snow couldn’t commit as the state legislature is still in session.

After King’s presentation, Long said the meeting will be open to the public and each person will be allotted 2 minutes to comment. No additional questions will be taken. Long said the comments will probably be taken in two parts – those for the airport authority and those against it – to keep it orderly.

“It’s just an informational session, but I hope it’s a packed house because it’s a pretty big deal,” Long said.

The County Council will not make any motions or votes during the April 6 meeting, he stated.

The council’s next regularly scheduled meetings are April 13 and May 11, but Long said King told him the county council could possibly wait until as late as September to make a decision.

Councilwoman Kathleen Groninger will not be able to attend the May meeting, Long said, and he wants all the council members to be in attendance when a decision is made on the airport authority.

The council’s public meetings are broadcast and saved online and a link to those can be found at for anyone unable to make the meeting(s).

On March 20, the Warsaw Common Council unanimously approved a resolution moving the airport from a board of aviation commissioners (BOAC) to a city-county airport authority.

King gave the Warsaw council a presentation on the authority at their March 6 meeting, but asked that the council not take any action on it until their March 20 meeting to give them time to consider the request and hear from the public.

Though Logansport attorney Donald J. Tribbett appeared with King at the March 20 city council meeting, there were no remonstrators. Tribbett has been working on the airport authority with the city.

The Kosciusko County Council must also approve a resolution similar to the city’s for the airport authority to go forward as the county would have three of the six representatives on the authority board and county taxpayers would see a tax start in 2024 to help pay for the airport and its needs. The mayor would appoint three of the airport authority board members, with the county commissioners – not the county council – appointing the other three.

Under the proposal, ownership of the airport would be transferred from the Board of Aviation Commissioners to the authority, The authority would be its own political subdivision, Tribbett told the city council, but the city and county councils would have oversight over the budget.

If the county adopts the resolution, the authority would not be established until Jan. 1. The authority would have to operate under a 2024 budget provided by the city because the authority would only begin collecting tax dollars from the county in 2024.

In a telephone interview Friday, King said the recommended tax rate for an airport authority is governed by state statute. The absolute most the authority would be able to collect is 3.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, but King said that’s not what they would be collecting as a proposed budget. The city and county councils would have to discuss and set the tax rate, but it can’t be any more than 3.9 cents.

Long said one major landowner – who he didn’t name – told him that the new tax for the airport authority would cost their business between $400,000 and $500,000 so they were not for it. He reiterated that the decision is so big, people need to come out to the meeting to give their comments.

If the county council approves the authority, there would be a 30-day remonstration period. If remonstrators collect enough signatures of voters – estimated to be around 456 – and those signatures are verified by the county clerk, then the airport authority would go to a referendum in the next municipal or general election.