DuPage Airport still hopes to stop relying on taxes

Anyone wanting the DuPage Airport to end its reliance on property tax dollars will have to keep waiting.

While calling it a “worthy” and “important” goal, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said Wednesday now isn’t the right time to remove the West Chicago airport from the tax rolls.

“There is value in keeping a lifeline of sorts for the (DuPage) Airport Authority because it is a very important resource in the community that provides for significant economic development,” he said. “It’s a draw to the business community.”

Cronin made the remarks after DuPage released a report by Crowe Horwath LLP that examined the airport authority along with the Emergency Telephone System Board and nine fire protection districts.

The consultants concluded that the airport authority has made great strides in reducing its need for property taxes by earning more income from hanger leases, fuel sales and other airport-related activities. In 1994, the authority levied more than $19 million in property taxes. The levy amount has since fallen to about $6.1 million.

“I wouldn’t want to charge down a path and demand that they remove themselves from the tax rolls if it’s going to lead to ... the deterioration of the airport as an asset for the county,” Cronin said.

In the meantime, airport officials should continue efforts to make the airport as self sufficient as possible while minimizing the use of property tax revenues, Cronin said.

The challenge facing the airport is that it has capital needs at a time when the economy continues to struggle. “They have to rebuild a runway,” Cronin said.

David Bird, the airport authority’s executive director, said the agency welcomed the scrutiny and the input that the Crowe Horwath consultants provided.

“We think their recommendations are good,” said Bird, adding the authority is planning to revise its ethics and procurement policies as a result of the report. Those updated policies will more closely mirror the county’s policies.

When it comes to getting the airport off the tax rolls, Bird said officials years ago were hoping that a business park the airport owns would generate enough revenue to make that goal a reality.

But the authority has struggled for years, partly because of the poor economy, Bird said, to find tenants for the 800-acre property just south of the airport. To spark development, the authority recently renamed the nearly vacant site the DuPage Business Center and broadened its purpose to allow for more potential uses, including light manufacturing.

In addition, the authority is hoping to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to sell about 450 acres of developable land at the business park.

If the request is approved, the authority would be able to pursue potential users who would rather own — not lease — their parcels.

All the revenue from land sales will come back to the airport. Buyers would be required to develop parcels within a certain amount of time.

By developing the land, airport officials said they hope to increase the airport’s revenue and eventually lighten the burden on taxpayers.

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