Friday, February 03, 2012

Columbia Regional Airport (KCOU), Missouri: Council hopefuls weigh in on business concerns.

By Andrew Denney
Published February 2, 2012 at 8:32 p.m.

Candidates to represent the Second and Sixth wards on the Columbia City Council discussed economic development and related issues with members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce at the first public forum this year for council candidates.

At the Chamber-hosted forum, members questioned Second Ward candidates on their skills as money managers and their positions on expanding the Columbia Regional Airport. The chamber has formed a task force to develop strategies to improve the airport, which is seen by business leaders as a potential means of spurring economic growth.

In the 2010 and 2011 elections to the council, the Chamber endorsed candidates that its members thought would best represent the interests of the city’s business community. Don Laird, the Chamber’s executive director, said the task force that makes recommendations for candidate endorsements has not yet decided whether the Chamber will endorse candidates this year.

The Second Ward candidates who discussed the airport generally agreed that it should be improved, including Mike Atkinson, Bill Pauls and Michael Trapp. Atkinson, co-owner of The Candy Factory and a member of the Central Columbia Association board, said the airport is “on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.” He said he heard an idea from a fellow member of the business community that involved the University of Missouri supporting the airport by refusing to reimburse mileage to employees who drive to Kansas City or St. Louis to catch flights for university business.

“To have those employees not be reimbursed would encourage more flights out of Columbia,” Atkinson said. “I think that would increase the demand for another carrier.”

Trapp said a proposal to increase the bed tax at the city’s hotels to help fund an expanded terminal at the airport is “worth considering.”

“I don’t really believe that people make their decisions” on which hotels to check in to “based on a hotel tax,” Trapp said.

When asked about what should be done to improve the airport, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe – who is running for her third term – said an increased hotel tax is a possible way of funding improvements to the airport, but she encouraged a measured approach to any kind of tax increase in which business leaders would be consulted.

Bill Tillotson, Hoppe’s opponent and a member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said the airport could improve with more collaboration from MU and other cities.

“We’ve got to sell the university, we’ve got to sell the citizens to use the airport,” Tillotson said. “We’ve got to sell surrounding communities.”


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