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City Beat: Airport to make bid for East Coast hub with grant

City Utilities of Springfield presents annual budget

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The Springfield-Branson National Airport was awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation – one of only 22 issued nationwide. Officials say they plan to use the funds to make a bid with airlines for a new route to the East Coast.

“While I think we have very good airline service for our metropolitan area, we’re hoping to use this grant to help make it better for us,” Brian Weiler, the city’s director of aviation, told Springfield City Council at its regular meeting Sept. 7.

The grant, offered through DOT’s Small Community Air Service Development Program at the end of August, will be matched up to $90,000 from the Springfield Business Development Corp. and up to $60,000 from the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. Council also was asked to allocate airport funds up to $25,000 toward the development effort.

A single-reading measure by council accepted the grant and the matches, amending the airport’s fiscal 2022 budget by $925,000 above the original 2021-22 appropriation of $27.5 million.

Weiler said the grant program is intended to enhance and promote air services in markets like Springfield and smaller. The hope is that Springfield will get new air service through the grant, which is what happened with a $450,000 grant from the same program in 2013 that helped lead to the opening of a route to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The grant program was very competitive, according to Weiler. The Springfield airport was the only one awarded in the central region of the Federal Aviation Administration, which includes Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

A letter of support from American Airlines was a factor in the application’s success, Weiler said, though he emphasized the support does not entail a commitment to start service.

“We hope to get a yet-unserved East Coast hub,” he said. “This is an area we think we have the best chance of success.”

He offered the examples of connections to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or airports in Philadelphia, New York or Miami as top possibilities.

Matt Morrow, president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, voiced his support for the grant. The SBDC, which also provided matching funds for the 2013 grant, is the economic development arm of the chamber.

“It’s been a good investment,” he said. “It helps us de-risk the deal for a partner like American Airlines or Delta or some other large airline that might want to consider making a route like that but might need a little bit of assurance.”

CU budget
City Utilities of Springfield’s budget proposal for its next fiscal year includes no base rate increases to customers.

Rob Rector, chair of the CU board of directors, and Amy Derdall, CU’s vice president and chief financial officer, presented a $632 million budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2022. The budget is up for approval at council’s Sept. 20 meeting.

Derdall said the budget includes lower receipts and expenditures than in fiscal 2021.

Receipts for the revised fiscal 2021 budget were $641 million, but they are projected at $606 million in fiscal 2022. Expenditures in fiscal 2021 were $653 million, as compared with $595 million in fiscal 2022.

A major factor in the lower fiscal 2022 budget is fuel prices, projected at $160.1 million in 2022, compared with $194 million in fiscal 2021. Derdall said when the fiscal 2021 budget was put together, natural gas had a unit price of $2.45, but it is currently up to $3.85.

To hedge against fluctuating fuel costs, CU purchases natural gas at a set price in advance of winter and keeps it in storage. That is a stronger focus in fiscal 2022 after February’s severe weather events taxed the utility’s resources, Derdall said.

In fiscal 2021, CU had higher receipts due to off-system sales of electricity, higher gas costs and fiber financing.

The budget continues CU’s commitment to more than 40% renewable energy sources for the city.

“CU continues to lead the state of Missouri with its renewable portfolio, and we’re very proud of that,” Rector said.

In March, Springfield Business Journal reported a slightly higher percentage, with 45% of CU’s electricity taken from renewable sources, and 84% of that from wind, 14% from hydroelectric power and 1% each from solar and landfill gas.

In an interview after the meeting, Chris Jones, CU’s vice president and chief electric operations officer, explained the difference, noting that the calculation is the renewable energy purchased divided by customer load.

“Last year with COVID, our customers’ load was down slightly, which would make the percentage a little bigger because the denominator’s a little smaller,” he said. “We really think that range of 40%-45% is where we’ll be for a while.”

Other action items

  • Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams updated council on the 240 officer-worn body cameras that are in use and providing accountability for officers and members of the public. Council voted to continue funding the cameras at $600,000 per year for the remainder of the five-year program by using Minor Neighborhood Improvement Program funds, which are drawn equally from each of the city’s four council zones.

Williams said the cameras are performing “better than expected.” He added that there have been almost no technical glitches in the program, which was initiated in January.

He cautioned that workload had increased greatly for his nonsworn staff, who help administer the program, adding that’s an area where council may consider adding more funding in the future.

  • Council amended the budget of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board for fiscal 2021 to staff the newly purchased Fieldhouse Sportscenter. The athletics facility will have a dedicated maintenance employee, plus a program coordinator and a supervisor. The action consisted of two measures that were OK’d in a single reading.

The measure allocated $605,000 to fund operations of the facility for the period of Sept. 28 through June 30, 2022. That amount includes $179,000 in temporary wages, FICA and workers’ compensation, $131,000 in other professional services and other supplies, equipment, computer hardware and software, insurance, utilities and more.

  • Council accepted funds from a presidential declaration of a major disaster resulting from COVID-19. Nearly $2.9 million was earmarked for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, which has incurred qualifying expenditures not covered by federal or state resources. That amount is outside of the $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds approved in August.
  • Standards for the Grant Avenue Parkway development were considered via a proposed amendment to the Springfield Land Development Code. The plan under consideration would not allow restaurant drive-thrus, to prevent accidents, and aim for a nonresidential facade throughout the district. Some terminology was clarified, and an accommodation was suggested for the expansion of existing businesses. The measure will be voted on Sept. 20.

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