The topic of the Muskoka airport is once again before district council.
At the Monday afternoon district council meeting there was debate around the proposal to transition the Muskoka airport into a Municipal Services Corporation (MSC). This proposal was discussed at the December Finance and Corporate Services Committee meeting.
This is part of a multi-year effort to develop a new governing structure for the Muskoka Airport. Previous reforms have yet to bring the airport to a place of financial sustainability. An MSC is a corporation whose shares are owned by a municipal government. The cost of implementing an MSC varies between $50,000 and $250,000 with total costs being estimated as high as $343,200.
Councillor Don Smith expressed concerns about implementing an MSC. He also had doubts about cost estimates for an MSC and how it would impact District funding. Smith was interested in the possibilities of delegating authority to the Airport Board rather than creating an MSC.
“To me investing $250,000, when I think that we could be looking at a delegated authority, which would provide all the support that the Airport Board needs is a far less expensive way to go,” Smith said.
Chief Administrative Officer Julie Stevens stated that currently, the District provides $1.3 million in funding to the Muskoka Airport. Stevens stated that the key rationale for the MSC is to support sustainability, expansion, return to scheduled service and increased agility in airport management.
In response to Smith’s support for delegated authority, Stevens stated that this setup has drawbacks. First it would be very easy for council to undo the designation and it would prevent the Airport Board from conducting business in private as the Municipal Act requires open meetings. However after a follow-up question by Smith, Stevens stated that a board with delegated authority could go into closed session over certain topics.
Despite Stevens’ explanation, Smith stated he was still unsure about spending a sizable amount of money on an MSC.
“I am challenged to understand what the benefit of spending $250,000 is when I think we can accomplish everything more or less the same,” Smith said.
District Chair Jeff Lehman, who is a member of the Airport Board stated that the board supports an MSC. According to Lehman transitioning to an MSC would be a key step in developing a successful business plan for the Muskoka Airport.
“I firmly do believe the MSC is the best tool out there to allow the Muskoka airport to bring back scheduled service and to grow the development base. And those are the two things that will bring us closer to fiscal sustainability,” Lehman said.
Councillor Scott Morrison stated that District Council has pledged its support for a skills-based board for the Muskoka Airport to make decisions about its future. Morrison said the doubts surrounding an MSC were contradicting this pledged support for the board and council should follow the board’s wishes.
“I think we need to proceed without delay so they can proceed the way they think is the best way to make our airport as profitable as possible,” Morrison.
Concerns about questioning the skills-based board were echoed by Councillor Terry Glover. He stated that council has interfered too much with the board.
“I cringe knowing that we’re gonna have these kinds of long-term discussions about something that we aren’t equipped to discuss. We aren’t the professionals. We aren’t the people with the experience,” Glover said.
Council approved a motion to continue investigating the transitioning of the Muskoka Airport into an MSC, although there is no official plan or timeline for the development.
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