Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 1:30 am | Overcast 66º


Local News

Santa Maria Council Backs Reviving Customs Office at Airport

With an eye toward economic development, the Santa Maria City Council this week agreed to contribute $25,000 to re-establish a U.S. Customs Office at the airport.

The matter came up during the City Council’s midcycle budget review for the 2014-16 spending plan and gained unanimous approval from the five members.

A customs office previously located at the Santa Maria Public Airport operated from 2006 to 2009 before falling prey to the economic downturn and closing.

However, an improved economy in addition to the operation of Windset Farms, a Canadian-based firm that grows tomatoes in large greenhouses on Black Road in Santa Maria, has sparked talks about reviving the U.S. Customs Office.

The airport-based customs office would provide an entry point for flights arriving from outside the United States.

Windset Farms recently has offered to contribute $75,000 toward re-establishing the local Customs Office. 

“Staff views this re-establishment as an economic development opportunity to showcase the Santa Maria Public Airport and especially the adjoining business park to adjoining businesses,” City Manager Rick Haydon said.

The city's money would come from the city’s Business Attraction Loan Fund, Haydon added.

Haydon said the city's proposed contribution would continue for two more years to serve as seed money while the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Airport District market the revived capability. 

Councilman Bob Orach said contributing funding toward bringing back the Customs Office is “a wise move for us to make,” noting the “very minor investment” compared to the vital service it would provide for current and future businesses.

“I think there are some huge opportunities,” Councilman Jack Boysen added. “Just the idea of perhaps attracting some of these  international companies that are looking for a place to clear customs a lot quicker than they could at a major airport, would seem to be a golden opportunity for us.”

With Windset Farms and city commitments, the Santa Maria Public Airport District board of directors will be asked at an future meeting to fund the remaining costs and approve the reopening of the Customs Office, General Manager Chris Hastert said.

Unlike most airports which are run by cities or counties, Santa Maria’s airport is operated by a special district with an independent board.

Several aspects make the U.S. Customs Office attractive today, including the fact that Windset Farms now has aircraft that can fly nonstop from Santa Maria to Canada.

Other agricultural tenants at the airfield could use it, Hastert added, and technology has changed that would make it easier to use a Santa Maria-based Customs Office.

“There’s a lot of things that have changed, the biggest obviously being the economy,” Hastert said, adding he remains confident the local Customs Office would pay for itself. 

When Windset Farms first suggested bringing back the U.S. Customs Office, the board balked due to financial concerns, Hastert said. 

In the past, the Customs Office cost approximately $185,000 and generated revenue of $15,000 annually.

But airport and chamber staff plan to market the Customs Office differently this time and remain confident they can generate revenue to cover the costs, Hastert said.

The city's $158.5 million budget also calls for adding three new police officers, an assistant identification technician, a public works operation manager, a water quality programs manager and a building permit technician.

In other matters, the budget also included $30,000 to hire a consultant to study demographics regarding elections and voter rights-related matters. Several cities that hold at-large council elections have been challenged amid a push to ensure the elected council represents all segments of the community.

“We see that is the trend in the state of California and we would like to be ahead of the game on that,” Haydon said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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