The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority on Monday morning voted 4-1 to spend up to $10,000 to hire a consultant to monitor proposed state legislation that would end Gary's control of the airport authority.
"We don't want the state to have the controlling hand here at the airport," said authority Vice President Rev. Marion Johnson. "We want to be inclusive of the region. We want to be inclusive of the state. But we feel control should remain here in Gary."
Johnson also said the fact Gary taxpayers built up the airport over the decades and continue to support it should be taken into account.
Property owners in Gary will pay an estimated $2.96 million in property taxes to support the Gary airport this year, according to the airport's 2013 budget. In addition, more than $4 million in property taxes paid by property owners in the Airport Development Zone on Gary's west end will be set aside for the exclusive use of the airport.
One of the airport authority's newest members, Porter County appointee Nikki Thorn, cast the lone "no" vote. Authority members Ross Amundson and Cornell Collins were absent.
Thorn said she doesn't necessarily agree with the way the legislation proposed by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, is written. But she also did not think there is yet a board consensus on the issue.
"And I don't necessarily agree with the airport and city of Gary going together on this," she said.
The city of Gary will work together with the airport authority to select a consultant to monitor the proposed legislation, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's office confirmed on Monday. The city will also contribute up to $10,000 to pay the consultant.
Charbonneau's bill deals mainly with establishing a land-based casino in Gary. But it also has sections authorizing changes to the airport authority and others dealing with proposed studies of a trauma center and port.
Freeman-Wilson attended a closed executive session of the airport authority preceding Monday's open 8:30 a.m. meeting.
She acknowledged discussing the proposed legislation with the authority at the executive session, but said she did not want to go into details.
"There are some good aspects to this legislation and there are some aspects that need to be changed," she said. "We do not agree with the governor having five appointees. There is no other airport in the state where the state controls the airport."