A newly formed Rock County committee will give a group of community members some influence over policy at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport as the county board tries to spur airport development.

The standalone committee will be comprised of six residents who could have “aviation-related” and/or economic development experience and three Rock County Board members. The board voted 21-3 to establish the committee Thursday night.

Wes Davis, Phil Owens and Kathy Schulz voted in opposition.

Called the Airport Board, the committee’s makeup is a major shift for the county, which has typically required a majority of a committee’s members be on the county board. Thursday’s resolution amends those rules and exempts the new committee from the ordinance.

An ad hoc committee studying the county-owned airport’s long-term viability recommended forming the committee in August. Brent Fox, who chaired that committee, said Thursday the new panel could serve as a springboard for future activity and growth because a majority of its members will have “more expertise” than county board members.

“There’s a lot of private activity taking place on a lot of the surrounding airports,” Fox said. “We’re just sitting here kind of stuck in quicksand. Why? Why can’t we be moving forward? You look over at East Troy—lots of new hangars being built. … There’s a hangar shortage in Madison. And we’ve got empty hangars.”

A joint parks and airport subcommittee currently exists under the county board’s Public Works Committee. The Airport Board will dissolve that committee and stand alone as the airport’s governing body. The resolution also establishes the airport as its own department.

An airport director, currently titled the airport manager, will be responsible for providing departmental leadership functions and report directly to the county administrator. While the county board has final say, the new committee may spend up to $25,000 without the full board’s approval.

Questions on the new board’s structure were raised during Thursday’s county board meeting. Owens said he had difficulty understanding why the committee will be comprised mostly of people not on the county board. He proposed an amendment to change the makeup to five county board members and four community members.

The amendment failed 14-11.

Fox said having experienced and knowledgeable members of the public at the helm will lead to better development and aviation-based decision-making and will “add some value and bring some greater input to the board.”

Other changes to the airport recommended by the ad hoc committee were exploring privatized hangars, increasing marketing efforts, and investigating seasonal or single-use events on site, such as air shows and music festivals.

According to the ad hoc committee’s study, the airport supports 237 jobs, generates $65.2 million worth of total economic activity and accounts for more than $1.06 million in visitor spending.

The airport board will officially form in January. County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni will appoint community members with input from Fox and the county administrator’s office. The full county board must approve all nominated community members.

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