According to airport manager Rebecca Cronkhite, a combination of improvements to the airport terminal and increased passenger numbers has her excited about the facility's future.
"We've had a really great year at the airport," Cronkhite told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Cronkhite said that after years of declining numbers of private planes being based at the airport, people are finally starting to return to Kenai. The reason for this, she said, is simple: Taxes.
Earlier this year, the Kenai City Council amended its tax schedule to essentially exempt private plane owners from paying personal property tax on their aircraft. At the time, the council said it wanted to attract more planes from places like the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Anchorage. Cronk-hite said Wednesday that the decision appears to be paying off.
"This has been a real boon to the airport," she said.
In addition to having more private planes tied down at the airport, Cronkhite said commercial air service has in-creased, also. She said Era Aviation has had a good summer, and Era's increased passenger numbers combined with new carrier Kenai Express' has caused passenger enplanements to rise significantly over last year.
"We've seen a lot of interest at the airport," she said.
This is good news for an airport that had seen passenger numbers decline consistently since September of 2001, and Cronkhite said it's an indication that the economy in Kenai is on the upswing.
"There's obviously some business going on in the community," she said. "There's a lot more people coming and going from Kenai."
Later Wednesday, Cronkhite was present at a meeting of the Kenai City Council when the council voted to approve a $358,815 contract to Peninsula Construction for airport terminal improvements. The im-provements include new security cameras, increased wheelchair access, heated sidewalks and a reconfigured parking lot that will allow people to park closer to the terminal.
Cronkhite told the council she believes the improvements will not only make the terminal more user-friendly, but also eventually will save money on maintenance costs because the heated sidewalks will cut down on how much ice and snow is tracked into the terminal during the winter.
"We think it's going to save us a lot of money in the long run," she said. "We really do think it's a good project."
She noted that the project is being paid for almost entirely with grant money from the federal and state government, and that Kenai's share is expected to be around 3 to 4 percent of the total cost of the project.
In other action Wednesday, the city council:
Accepted a $51,491 Juvenile Justice grant from the state to be passed through to the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula.
Dedicated a number of foreclosed properties to be sold at auction later this year. A complete list of the properties is available at city hall.
Amended the city's minor offense fine schedule to match the state's.
Awarded a $46,069.90 bid to Great Bear Ford for the purchase of two new police sedans. The council also awarded a $23,693.76 bid to Great Bear for the purchase of a new 4x4 pickup truck for animal control.
Transferred $12,000 from the General Fund Contingency to the Parks Department in order to match a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant. The money will go toward protecting the small, unnamed creek that runs through Kenai and empties into the Kenai River near the river's mouth.
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