Bill Updates Monterey Peninsula Airport Finances

A bill flying through the California General Assembly promises to give new financial wings to the Monterey Peninsula Airport District.

The bill also would change some very musty district rules that date back to the days when planes were propeller-driven and the district was created, 65 years ago.

"It's basically bringing us up to the 20th century," joked airport manager Tom Greer.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 2650, by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, would make it easier for the airport district to obtain money, through loans or by selling bonds, for capital projects by lifting out-of-date dollar limits, officials say.

"It would put the airport on equal footing with other airports that don't have these limits," said David Willoughby, the airport district's attorney.

The measure, which cleared the Assembly on a 76-0 vote, would make other changes to the original 1941 law that established the airport district as a separate government entity apart from the city of Monterey.

"There was no electronic banking back then," Willoughby said. The current law specifies that the district must pay all of its bills by checks, but the new law would allow electronic banking and other modern transaction methods.

"It would... modernize some archaic language under which governments were organized back then," Willoughby said.

Under current rules, the district must pay bills of more than $10,000 by passing an ordinance -- a process that takes two actions by the district board and then 30 days to take effect.

"Our poor vendors, in many cases, were just getting killed (by the payment delays)," Greer said.

The legislation, called the Monterey Airport Modernization and Efficiency Bill, would eliminate a $1 million limit on promissory notes issued by the district and a $15 million cap on its bonding authority.

That would allow the district to more easily undertake capital projects that cost between $1 million and $15 million, Willoughby said.

"It opens up territory in between, where you can fund improvements now and pay for them out of your revenue stream," he said.

The bill would put the airport district's procedures for elections and filling vacancies on its five-member board on the same footing as other special districts.

"It's a pretty benign bill," Willoughby said. "Nothing fundamentally changes. It just allows us, in our mind, to operate more effectively."

The financial-authority changes will put the airport in better position "in the future, if we have some major capital project," Greer said.

In March, the airport district began a $4.5 million terminal renovation, which should be completed by next spring. The job includes seismic retrofitting and expansion of the terminal's secure area.

The project is being financed with savings, federal grants and revenues, Greer said. The district didn't need to borrow money for the terminal renovation.

Copyright: The Monterey County Herald -- 5/29/06

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