SHERIDAN — Sheridan County plans to resume negotiations with the city of Sheridan on a local air service funding agreement early in the new year, according to county Administrative Director Renee Obermueller.
The local governments have historically split the cost of contracting a commercial airline to operate out of Sheridan County Airport, but the two parties were unable to reach an agreement this summer to share the cost of bringing SkyWest Airlines — which will take over as the commercial air service provider at the county airport later this month — to Sheridan.
Sheridan County finalized a memorandum of understanding with the Wyoming Department of Transportation in August that secured SkyWest as the local commercial airline. The county initially planned to have an MOU in place with the city before finalizing that agreement, but opted to commit to paying SkyWest’s fee alone to meet a critical deadline with the state.
The city and county continued negotiating an agreement whereby the two entities would split the fee, but Obermueller said those talks fizzled.
She added, though, that progress on the funding agreement stopped because other priorities emerged, not because the differences between the two parties proved irreconcilable.
Sheridan City Council considered an air service funding MOU with the county during an August meeting, but chose to table the agreement after council members expressed concerns about the role the city would play in managing the new air service under the proposed agreement.
Those concerns stemmed from the structure of the county’s agreement with SkyWest, which gives the state more input into how Sheridan County’s commercial air service will operate.
SkyWest’s commitment to serve Sheridan County came as part of a capacity purchase agreement, wherein the state contracted the airline to provide service to four Wyoming communities.
While the contract with Key Lime Air — the provider SkyWest will replace Jan. 12 — was held by a local entity and subsidized with state funds, the state holds the contract with SkyWest and participating communities receive service through MOUs with the state.
That arrangement gives the state more control over operational aspects of the service like ticket pricing, flight scheduling and revenue management, all of which were managed by local stakeholders under the agreement with Key Lime Air. City and county officials decided SkyWest would provide more growth opportunities for local air service, but city council members feared the proposed MOU with the county would commit the city to pay for a service it had no control over.
“We just need to somehow have it that we have input that is weighed and has merit in the discussion,” said Councilor Patrick Henderson during city council’s August meeting.
Members of the Sheridan County Commission expressed frustration with the city for its decision not to finalize the funding MOU over the summer, noting that the county had also surrendered some control under the new agreement.
But despite that frustration, the two sides were optimistic that they would eventually reach an agreement. Obermueller said that optimism remains as the county prepares to resume talks over that agreement.