Lambert International Airport

 

Franklin County is playing a larger role in the St. Louis metro area and is being included in regional discussions concerning projects.

One such project ramped up last week was the privatization of Lambert Airport, which is currently owned by the city of St. Louis.

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker says efforts are in the works at the state level to create a Regional Airport Authority to operate the sometimes struggling airport.

“What do I know about Franklin County’s role? Not much,” Brinker said. “I’ve received phone calls from the mayor of Bridgeton, Terry Briggs, and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. I’ve also spoken with St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann.”

Brinker said on paper it makes sense to put the airport under an advisory board which could in turn result in better services for airport patrons whose taxes support the public/private entity.

According to one plan, the airport authority would consist of members representing St. Louis City, and St. Louis, Jefferson, Franklin and St. Charles counties.

The number of representatives on the board would be determined by the population of the governing counties. Franklin County would be allowed one person per 110,000 residents in population.

No person appointed to the board will be an elected official in the state of Missouri.

“As it is today, the way the airport is run needs to be changed,” Brinker said. “Discussion is always good, if we are going to be affected like these other collar counties, I want to be a participant.”

Brinker likened the airport authority to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, which is comprised of counties from both Missouri and Illinois expanding outward from the city of St. Louis.

Similar legislation to form an airport authority would have to be filed in Illinois to make the board cohesive.

Use Tax

Although not mentioned in the proposal shared with The Missourian, some proponents of the airport privatization have proposed the implementation of a regional airport tax in the counties surrounding Lambert, whose residents use the airport.

The use taxes would have to be voter approved and a half-cent may be recommended.

“Not just no, but hell no!” Brinker said. “The costs are going up and the services are going down, we need to fix that, but there is no way we would float a sales tax.”

Other half-cent sales taxes in Franklin County generate about $6.3 million annually.

Brinker explained currently, the city of St. Louis receives 12 percent of the revenue from the airport.

Under this new plan, the city would still own the property, but the collar entities could share in profits, which would then be reinvested into the airport.

In his opinion, this allows airport revenues to be put where they need to be instead back into the city of St. Louis tax base.

Brinker added the decreased revenues at the airport have caused the prices for service to go up over the years.

“Parking fees have gone up, transportation costs to get to the airport have gone up, security costs at the airport have gone up,” Brinker said. “Users are basically paying more, for the same services or for even less services than they used to receive.”

Issues

One of the main factors causing financial strife at the airport is the $1 billion runway expansion done several years ago.

Dwindling revenues and loss of major airlines have further hindered the airport’s efforts to turn a profit.

“The airport is a great piece of infrastructure for this entire region,” Brinker said. “What is the best approach? I will always listen, but we need to vet and go through every option before drawing more on the backs of the taxpayers.”

Brinker said the plan he has been shown is just one of several pieces of legislation expected to be filed once the legislative session begins Wednesday.

He wouldn’t say if any of the legislation would be filed by any of the local lawmakers who represent Franklin County.

In addition to the regional public airport ownership plans, there also are plans being formulated for a private entity to take control of the airport operations as well.