Caution urged on Airport Referendum

Edward Wuellner
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 county’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 – and he isn’t being too bashful to point them out.

One of Wuellner’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. “The 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.”, said Wuellner.

According to Executive Director Wuellner, “Included 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.”

Wuellner went on to say, “Interestingly, 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.” Based on his experience, Wuellner pointed out that “the short-sighted notion that the airport can be off the tax roles as soon as the County takes over is simply not true.”

Wuellner emphasized in our interview; “Make 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.”

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, “in order for the long-term interest of the county’s airport to be met without future taxes, a sound businesslike approach to sustainable revenue generation must be realized.”

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. “That plan is on-track and will result in the Authority making good on its promises to be “off the tax rolls” by the end of 2010”, Wuellner says.

An important position, from Wuellner’s point-of-view, is that the Airport Authority’s plan keeps it “debt-free” 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.

  • Are you better off with a Board that focuses 100% of its meeting time on the business of running the airport or with a Board that will likely dedicate less than 5% to those challenges?
    Exactly who at the County possesses the background and knowledge necessary to operate an airport?
  • If the County already has in place the administration and other services required to operate the airport, what are they doing now with their time?
  • What would be the political motivation for dissolving an entity that is so close to self-sufficiency?
  • If the County has all these departments and services available now to effectuate the purported “efficiency” gained by consolidation, what are these employee’s doing now?
  • Historic City Media news photograph.

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