Lander commits to fulfilling commercial air service funding request; source of money still undecided

The Lander City Council plans to fulfill a $145,000 funding request to support commercial air service in Fremont County – they just aren’t sure where the money will come from yet.

“We need to commit to the $145,000,” Councilmember John Larsen said during a work session last week. “Where it comes from, I’m not quite sure. But we need to make that commitment.”

Half percent sales tax

The funding could come out of Lander’s portion of the countywide optional half percent sales tax for economic development, but Mayor Monte Richardson pointed out that the sales tax revenue could go away if voters don’t support the option in the future.

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“(If) we lose that half cent sales tax, where do we go in two years?” he asked. “Where are we going to get the funding?”

He suggested the council “sit down and have a discussion” about potentially incorporating commercial air service funding into the municipal budget instead – in a way that doesn’t “gut our infrastructure projects or equipment funds.”

Councilmember Chris Hulme also urged “caution” regarding the use of half percent sales tax money and said he “would lean more towards the idea of finding (the funding) in our general fund … in some form or fashion for this year.”

He pointed out that Lander is currently “working well under-budget” and could allocate the $145,000 from its “bolstered” savings account.

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‘Lobby higher’

In the longer-term, Hulme said, the city should join with other municipalities to advocate for more financial support for commercial air service from county, state and federal governments.

“(Let’s) use our strength to lobby higher, that would be my suggestion,” he said. “Air service should not be discussed at this level. (We need) lobbying above our level.”

Councilmember Missy White said it would also help to “increase the educational efforts and outreach” in the local community so voters are more aware of “the value of the economic development tax generally (and) transportation specifically.”

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She recalled that, during her seven years with the Lander Economic Development Association, “every single business” that considered relocating to town said they “absolutely have to have either an interstate or air service – and preferably both.”

“Air service is critical (for) economic development,” she said. “We need to have this. Rural communities that don’t have that connection of interstate or air service are dwindling, and that is simply a fact. (So) I think it’s something we need to figure out how to support … We just at this point don’t know where that specifically is going to come from.”

More opinions

Councilmember Melinda Cox said she has been “a little bit reluctant” to use half percent sales tax money to support commercial air service in the past, but now she is “leaning more towards” that option, as opposed to finding the funding in the municipal general fund.

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Councilmember Dan Hahn said he also “would like to take the money out of the half cent (and) keep the money in the general fund.”

Councilmember Julia Stuble reiterated that the ballot language authorizing the half percent sales tax says 70 percent of the revenues will go to the county and six municipalities “to manage and invest in economic development projects of their choosing.”

“So we can utilize that money that was not put out to the (Lander Investment for Tomorrow) Committee then?” Larsen asked.

“I believe we can,” Stuble said. “I believe we have discretion.”

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