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West Jordan Journal

Bill to give West Jordan control of local airport has no support

Mar 16, 2020 03:16PM ● By Erin Dixon

Airport in West Jordan is operated by Salt Lake City. West Jordan has no say in it’s future. (photo/Google Maps)

By Erin Dixon | [email protected]

South Valley Regional Airport is in the middle of West Jordan City, yet Salt Lake City owns the land it sits on.

State Rep. Kim Coleman of District 42 has been working on House Bill (HB) 310 that is supposed to make the transfer of land from Salt Lake City to West Jordan a simple process.

“It says if Salt Lake is a willing seller and West Jordan is a willing buyer, then the transaction shall take place. If two political subdivisions transact property, it has to be at Fair Market Value (FMV) unless the legislature directs the transaction,” Coleman said.

“It’s been my hope that we would do a straight across transfer, with no money. I think that’s fair representation, how it has a direct adverse effect on our city,” she continued. “However, Salt Lake has asked me to drop the bill. There is not a remote possibility that they would ever be a willing seller. We don’t know why.”

One letter from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) addressed to Salt Lake City states the impossibility of a straight across transfer. “Since 1982, Salt Lake City has entered into agreements with the FAA for the acceptance of Federal funds for airport development projects under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).”

“Because the property in question is obligated airport property, the gifting of land from Salt Lake City to West Jordan is contrary to Grant Assurance ....[T]he airport account must receive fair market value (FMV),” John P. Bauer, manager FAA Denver Airports district office, said.

Salt Lake City Director of Communications Nancy Volmer further clarified that, “If West Jordan did not pay fair market value for the property, some other party (such as the city’s general fund) would be required to pay to the airport fund … The language in Rep. Coleman’s bill does not alter that FAA requirement.”

Coleman said she has received different information. “I’ve spoken several times with Kevin Willis at FAA, who confirms there is no prohibition on this [bill] and that FAA does not get involved in legislation or litigation. That is left up to states.”

“It is also inaccurate that it needs to be sold at FMV. If Salt Lake City were to sell it, that would be true. But, we were contemplating a political subdivision transfer by the state.” she said.

Why would West Jordan want the land?

The influx of growth in the Salt Lake valley makes space valuable. West Jordan is a bedroom community with many homes and few businesses. Inviting more business to the city is critical to supporting West Jordan because of the sales tax revenue it can bring to the city. The city collects more money from sales and business property tax than residential. Residents pay 40% of the property tax value, while businesses pay the full taxable amount. An underperforming airport does not attract business, and can even deter it.

Coleman states that if West Jordan was steward of the airport, they would have a vested interest in improving it. Right now, the airport loses $1.5 million a year within the FAA system.

An airport is self-sustaining. The government does not lose that money, the airport loses money to the FAA. Salt Lake City is simply in charge of its management, in which Coleman feels they have done poorly.

“[West Jordan] really wants to work with Salt Lake City to do beneficial things for our city but in the past they haven’t shown a willingness to do it and when they do they kind of pull the rug out from under us.”

“Investors would very likely come in and draw business to our city. The opportunity is there but it doesn’t benefit Salt Lake City if businesses come to West Jordan, so there’s not a natural incentive to make improvements there,” Coleman said.

Salt Lake City was paying an outside management company, Leading Edge, to oversee the airport, but this company was unable to keep up with the desires of Salt Lake City.

“I’ve spoken with that former management company and it absolutely is a profitable airport ... but Salt Lake’s terms were not reasonable,” Coleman said.

The FAA can stand the loss of $1.5 million a year, Coleman said, because “These are amounts of money that a drops in the bucket in the whole national airport system, when there is so much money in the other airport.”  

Why does Salt Lake City want it?

Coleman is concerned that Salt Lake City is simply unwilling to let go of the land.

“They will oppose any efforts to try and acquire this airport … They don’t want us to have it,” Coleman said.

Lindsey Nikola from Salt Lake City’s communications department indicated that, “[I]t’s just not necessary given that Salt Lake City and West Jordan have a memorandum of understanding regarding Salt Lake Valley Regional.”

Leased land to West Jordan

West Jordan has leased adjacent lands to use as soccer fields, and has invested money on the infrastructure and upkeep of this land. A $1 per year lease has been in place for 25 years, but expires in 2025.

Coleman states that Salt Lake City has threatened West Jordan that if they supported HB310, Salt Lake City might not extend the lease agreement.

“The outgoing mayor (Jim Riding) did sign an MOU to discuss the soccer fields. The new Mayor (Dirk) Burton expressed to me concern that my bill would endanger those discussions,” Coleman said.

West Jordan Public Information Officer Tauni Barker said city officials, “don't currently have any reason to believe that Salt Lake City will want to terminate the lease, but our current MOU provides a forum for us to discuss lease and/or purchase of the land the soccer field lies on.”