Thursday, October 26, 2000

City looks to sell Blue Ash Airport

By By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Blue Ash Airport is a $20 million asset that Cincinnati officials say does nothing for the city.

        They'd rather see it sold and the cash put into an investment fund that would — based on today's returns — generate $1.5 million a year in interest.

        City Council on Wednesday voted to open negotiations for the sale of the air port.

        It was one of several issues taken up during a three-hour council meeting, which revolved around cutting city expenses — and cutting taxes.

        The council also pushed for an agreement with the Hamilton County prosecutor to take over prosecution of misdemeanor offenses.

        And members rejected a plan that would have set next year's millage rate at 5.52 mills and approved instead a 5.4 rate. The difference will save the average homeowner about $4 a year and cost the city about $665,000 in revenue next year.

        Although the council set the 5.4 rate in June, city administrators said they wanted to maintain the current 5.52 rate in order to make up for a shortfall in estimated property values.

        Councilman Pat DeWine criticized city administrators for not doing enough to cut expenses. He also accused them of dragging their feet on issues that could result in a significant savings to taxpayers, including the airport sale.

        “The airport was acquired by the city in 1950,” Mr. DeWine said. “It's pretty clear by 2000 that we're not going to have a big regional airport in Blue Ash.”

        This is not the first time the airport has been put on the block. But City Manager John Shirey said the most logical buyer — the city of Blue Ash — has not made a reasonable offer.

        “I don't happen to agree with Mr. DeWine's estimate of the airport,” he said of the $20 million price. “It's more.”

        The airport package includes 170 acres of developable land in an area that has become the region's most popular place for suburban office space.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said Mr. DeWine was “irrefutably correct” on one point:

        “That it is an assest that should produce a return for (the city),” he said.

        But he cautioned officials to be wary of a deal that would result in a giveaway, reminding the council that the city used to own the Blue Ash Golf Course.

        “My recollection is that we gave away the golf course,” he said.

        For years the city was blocked by federal law from investing the proceeds of an airport sale, but Mr. Shirey said that law has been recently changed.

        “I don't think we need to be writing any more reports on this,” he said, adding that money from the sale could go to repair playgrounds, repave streets or any number of causes.

        On Wednesday, Mr. DeWine also pushed for city administrators to work out another deal, with the Hamilton County prosecutor to take over prosecution of misdemeanor cases.

        The council agreed unanimously that the city is wasting time and taxpayer money by having lawyers waiting next to county lawyers in the same courtroom to work the same kind of cases.

        But since July, when the mayor wrote a letter to Mr. Shirey on the issue, members complained that nothing has happened.

        “This has been going on for decades,” Mr. Luken said. “There is a savings that can arrive from this.“

        Mr. Shirey said he is awaiting a detailed report from Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen.

        Councilwoman Alicia Reece said she wants to know if turning over the services to the county would cost the city jobs, and if so, she wants an accounting by names and positions.

        “Any cut we can make has a trickle-down effect to the people,” she said.


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