By David Slone
WARSAW — Warsaw Municipal Airport has outgrown what the city alone can support, so Monday the Common Council was asked to consider a resolution approving the establishment of a city-county airport authority.
No action was taken by the council, but they will be asked to approve the resolution at their March 20 meeting. The Kosciusko County Council also will be asked to approve a similar resolution at their April and May meetings.
The Warsaw Board of Aviation Commissioners (BOAC) unanimously approved at their February meeting to recommend to the city council that the airport authority resolution be passed.
Mayor Joe Thallemer told the city council Monday, “What we’re looking at doing is making the move from a board of aviation commissioners. You all approved – not you all, but this body – in 1946 a BOAC to form and develop the Warsaw Airport. It’s obviously been an airport that has grown, that is serving our community, that basically serves as a hub for our corporate aircraft, for charter companies, as well as agricultural services, with recreational aircraft as well.”
He listed a couple of awards the airport received over the years and said the airport has been important to the community.
“As the airport has grown, and as the airport has aged, the facilities are showing it, and as you saw a minute ago, our funding is basically the property taxes or our fuel sales,” Thallemer said, noting grants also have paid for significant projects. “But some projects don’t qualify for those funds. One solution is to consider moving from a Board of Aviation Commissioners to an airport authority, which allows us to partner with the county and utilize a countywide tax base to support the airport.”
The airport has been a city-owned asset for many years, and Thallemer said this was a decision that the council needed to consider and not take lightly. He asked the council to listen to Airport Manager Nick King’s presentation Monday, but not vote on the resolution until the March 20 meeting so they could think about it and give the public a chance to react to it.
King then gave the council a similar presentation to the one he gave the BOAC back in February. He said when he comes back to the council at their March 20 meeting, the attorney the airport has hired to help with the transition – Don Tribbett – can attend.
“We are a full-service fueling FBO (fixed-based operator),” King began. “The city owns that business and that’s where we make our money – on fuel sales, on hangar rent, things like that.”
Traditionally, he said the Warsaw Airport has always been a tenant-based business, with most tenants living in Warsaw, having hangars here and parking their aircraft here.
“So we’ve not had to offer a lot of additional services that a normal fixed-based operator would use or offer, like de-icing,” he said. “We have very proven results, but we do need to grow to be able to serve a larger customer base that’s been expanding since Covid hit in 1920.”
He pointed out that they are not looking to become a commercial airport.
King said they’d like to offer full FBO service – lavatory services, de-icing services, etc. “Currently, any charter or jet that comes into Warsaw that is not based here – this time of year is a great example – if there’s frost overnight, they can not leave until that aircraft has been de-iced and get all the frost or ice or snow off those wings. If it is an active snow event, there is additional de-icing that has to be done to prevent additional snow and ice build-up on those aircraft. We don’t have those services currently and … everything with aviation is very expensive,” he said.
The airport also would like to expand its non-tenant services.
He also said another reason why they should move to a city-county airport authority is that the airport doesn’t just serve city residents. It serves the city, county and beyond. Currently, of the 64 hangars at the airport, King said only about seven or eight reside in the city limits, with most residing out in the county or in Whitley County.
“And we are the front door to not just the city, but to the county as well,” King said.
A city-county airport authority would have six board members – three appointed by the mayor and three appointed by the county commissioners. The county council would approve the authority’s budget annually, but King said he would present it to the city council as well. His employer would be the airport authority. Most of the county would be taxed for the airport, but it would give the airport the ability to replace pavements, upgrade the instrument landing system and do other needed work.
King reviewed the goals of the airport, as well as its main objectives, project needs and associated costs. He even covered needs like replacing aging mowers and ground maintenance and said he’d love to bring back the air show.
On funding the airport, King said most of the funds for the airport come from fuel sales, oil sales, hangar rent, rent from the airport’s farm ground and the tax levy is another big piece.
“Currently, our tax rate is $0.0534 as a city-owned BOAC,” King said. They worked with municipal financial adviser Baker Tilly, who put a study together, and they recommended a city-county tax rate of $0.039 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Thallemer later clarified that “If this goes through, that tax rate – the impact – on the county and the city would be the same rate. It would be the 3.9 cents in lieu of the current 5.4, so the rate for the city and the rate for the county would be the same.”
If the city and county both approve the airport authority, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2024. The taxes would be collected in 2024 for 2025, so the city would have to provide the budget for the airport in 2024.
Council President Jack Wilhite made the motion to table the resolution to the March 20 meeting, Councilman Josh Finch seconded it and the council unanimously approved tabling it two weeks.
Earlier in the meeting, Warsaw Community Economic Development Director Jeremy Skinner presented a 10-year tax abatement on real property at 1395 Polk Drive, as requested by West Hill Development LLC.
The property is a new 101,000-square-foot shell building with an estimated cost of $11.3 million out at the Warsaw Tech Park.
“This building is the largest building that we have built,” he said. “Much like the other tax abatements we’ve done for the shell buildings, a little bit different because they are spec buildings. We are giving the first three years at 100% and then it tapers down from there.”
In the case of the new shell building, he said there’s already an occupant for the first 30,000 square feet. A groundbreaking for the occupant is planned for March 15. The building was designed to be multi-tenant and therefore can have two or three tenants in it.
The Council unanimously approved the tax abatement request.