Historic City Media interviewed Edward R. Wuellner, AAE, Executive Director of the St. Augustine and St. Johns County Airport Authority this afternoon regarding the upcoming county commission meeting to consider a referendum to abolish the Airport Authority.
Wuellner was very candid in our interview. He presented his ideas and opinions about what he sees as the effort of some members of the County Commission to wrest control of the countyâ€™s most valuable asset in what he feels may be a misguided attempt to consolidate power; for themselves.
Wuellner pointed out that there are concerns regarding the accuracy and reliability of claims being circulated about the local airport â€“ and he isnâ€™t being too bashful to point them out.
One of Wuellnerâ€™s concerns is that the citizens could likely have significantly less control and attention paid to the airport should the measures being proposed ultimately move forward. â€œThe Authority Members are elected by the exact same voters that elect the County Commission with the exact same accountability to those voters with several distinct differences.â€, said Wuellner.
According to Executive Director Wuellner, â€œIncluded in these differences is the fact that Airport Authority Members are not paid. They have only the interests of the airport in the community as their concern. They are committed to making St. Augustine Airport self-sufficient on a sustainable basis and not burying it in another large governmental entity.â€
Wuellner went on to say, â€œInterestingly, the Airport Authority is the only governmental entity in St. Johns County that is capable of being off the tax rolls and being self-sufficient.â€ Based on his experience, Wuellner pointed out that â€œthe short-sighted notion that the airport can be off the tax roles as soon as the County takes over is simply not true.â€
Wuellner emphasized in our interview; â€œMake no mistake that this is about concentrating power, not about developing a strong community asset. The airport currently exceeds $500 million in annual economic impact and impacts over 2,000 community jobs.â€
Some critics of the elected Airport Authority and how Airport Authority members have managed the facilities claim that the airport could never be self sufficient and that they lack a workable plan.
While operationally the airport is self-sustaining, according to Wuellner, â€œin order for the long-term interest of the countyâ€™s airport to be met without future taxes, a sound businesslike approach to sustainable revenue generation must be realized.â€
Wuellner contends that a plan has been implemented for over 5 years now that provides for the long-term viability of the airport without the need for property taxes. â€œThat plan is on-track and will result in the Authority making good on its promises to be â€œoff the tax rollsâ€ by the end of 2010â€, Wuellner says.
An important position, from Wuellnerâ€™s point-of-view, is that the Airport Authorityâ€™s plan keeps it â€œdebt-freeâ€ and fiscally capable of meeting the needs of a thriving St. Johns County community.
Before deciding on where they stand on this matter, Wuellner challenges St. Johns County citizens to ask themselves a few questions.
Exactly who at the County possesses the background and knowledge necessary to operate an airport?
Historic City Media news photograph.