$ 119.5 Million Later, Southern Illinois Taxpayers Still Trying To Get Airport To Take Off


An underutilized airport near Belleville, Ill. Has forced local taxpayers to pay $ 119.5 million since 2002 to keep operating. Even with the money from the pandemic, 2020 has been even worse.

St. Clair County taxpayers had to add nearly $ 8.2 million from other county resources to keep MidAmerica St. Louis Airport open during the pandemic year, auditors said. This brings the grand total since 2002 to $ 119.5 million in cash transfers needed to fill the airport’s deficits.

The grant was up from the $ 7 million needed in 2019 and from almost $ 6.3 million needed in 2018.

The 2020 grant would have been even larger, but auditors noted that $ 553,000 in pandemic funds mitigated the leak. “Declines in passenger service and some other revenue-generating operations have been offset by special funding from airport grants linked to the pandemic. “

One improvement at the airport was the number of destinations available from the single passenger carrier. A year ago, only seven destinations were available, but the airline currently lists 13 destinations departing from the airport on the outskirts of Belleville, Illinois.

Homeowners in St. Clair County should be concerned that scarce resources are being put into a project unable to generate a profit. They should also be wondering how the airport bailout affects their property taxes and the value of their home, especially the value of a rural home where people rarely see a sheriff’s deputy on patrol because that money keeps an airport going. in staff.

Since the Great Recession, St. Clair County home values ​​have fallen 23% after adjusting for inflation, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Also from 2007 to 2017, data from the Illinois Department of Revenue shows property tax bills in St. Clair County increased 5% after adjusting for inflation.

Shortly after the airport opened in 1997, it was featured in a segment on NBC News’ “The Fleecing of America”. NBC returned in 2010 and again in 2015 to find the airport in a sorry state.

In the 24 years since its opening, the airport has suffered a series of stranded passenger carriers and failed attempts to expand its freight business, earning nicknames such as “Gateway to Nowhere” and “Glass Palace on the Prairie “.

County officials said increased passenger traffic would improve the airport’s finances. Traffic increased slightly in 2019, with 153,753 passengers getting on and off a plane, but passenger traffic fell almost 30% in 2020 to 108,765.

That meant the $ 8.18 million grant from county taxpayers was equivalent to giving each passenger $ 75 in cash. That same figure was nearly $ 46 for each passenger in 2019 and just over $ 41 in 2018, when the money used to balance the airport’s books is divided by the number of passengers.

The airport originally cost $ 300 million. In 2015, St. Clair County officials decided to refinance the remaining $ 40 million in construction debt and extend repayment until 2045, a move that raised the taxpayer’s debt burden to 88 millions of dollars. And, as the auditors said, “interest continues to be a major expense of the airport.”

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