Red Deer County will spend another $500,000 fixing the local airport runway after the City of Red Deer put a hold on its funding.
Refurbishing the secondary runway at Red Deer Regional Airport was expected to cost $2.6 million — evenly split between the city and county — but came in $800,000 under budget.
City officials told the county that because of COVID-19, the city has put airport runway spending on the back burner until council takes another look at its capital budget.
The city also wants the Red Deer Regional Airport Authority to present its strategic and business plans to council before new funding is approved.
To make sure the runway project can go ahead, county council approved $506,930 in extra funding, leaving the county to cover the entire $1.8-million runway bill.
“We have an airport that’s actually thriving in this economy,” said Mayor Jim Wood. “This is a commitment from Red Deer County. This is an investment in our future.
“You know, we have to step up to the plate right now.”
Assistant county manager Dave Dittrick said if the crumbling runway, which is used extensively by a pair of flight training schools, is not fixed, it will be closed down by Transport Canada.
“It’s a critical piece of infrastructure,” said Dittrick. “We need that airport.”
Dittrick said about 300 people work at the various companies at the airport, including Air Spray, which provides air tanker and air attack aircraft to control wildfires.
Despite the economic slump caused by the collapse in world oil prices and COVID-19, airport businesses have been spared layoffs.
Coun. Christine Moore said, “I really support this extra financial contribution to our airport. Without it, a lot of the great work done before could be lost.
“If this (runway work) is left, it could seriously affect the future of the airport.”
Moore said central Alberta’s economic future will depend a lot on efforts to diversify the local economy, and the airport will play a big role.
Coun. Philip Massier asked what would happen if the City of Red Deer later agreed to provide funding, or money came from elsewhere, such as through provincial government infrastructure programs.
Both the federal and provincial governments have announced that infrastructure support is coming to help get people laid off because of the pandemic back to work.
“If the city or some other government comes through, we would anticipate we would want our money back,” said Dittrick.
“We will continue to work with the city to come up with a positive outcome for this airport.
“We are definitely not going to stop the conversation with the city if we pass this (extra funding) today.”
Coun. Dana Depalme, who cast the sole vote against the funding request, sought assurances from administration that the funding would be subtracted from the airport’s 2021 request to the county.
She was told that might happen, but it had not been discussed yet with the airport authority.
The City of Red Deer has said it will continue to pay the $425,000 in airport operating funding it agreed to in its 2020 budget.