Archived Story

Commissioners at odds about upgrading facility

Published 9:49am Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Whether new lighting is installed at the Lawrence County Airport appears to be coming down to the decision of a single commissioner.

On Tuesday Bill Nenni of the Tri-State Pilots Association asked the Lawrence County Commission to revive the project that would install radio-activated lighting on both ends of the runways. The project, which would cost just under $300,000, has already been approved for funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Every time we use the money we affirm to the FAA that we are indeed intending to use that grant money,” Nenni said. “That airport was given to the county and today that airport is worth millions more because we use those FAA grants.”

Typically, FAA grants fund 90 percent of a project. But to get that money the county must put in a match of 10 percent of the funds needed. Those are usually the conditions for all FAA grants to the county and the pilots association would like to have that same federal support next year to upgrade the asphalt runways that are cracked and split.

In August the commission passed a resolution in favor of the lighting project. However since then the question of whether the county has the money and from which fund would the match be transferred has arisen.

“The auditor said we didn’t have the money and didn’t certify the funds,” Nenni said. “But we need to go forward with this project. (The FAA) will be very disappointed if we don’t go ahead with the project.”

In the fall of 2012 when it was time for the commissioners to sign the grant, the county had to come up with the 10 percent match. The auditor’s office reported to the commission that there was no money in the 2012 budget to cover the match.

“We asked where in their budget did they want to take the money from and there was no definitive answer,” Deputy Auditor Chris Kline said.

Nenni said the pilots association is coming up with ideas on how to bring more revenue into the airport including raising hangar fees and more aggressively collecting those fees.

“We have a problem collecting the money on the rents,” Nenni said. “Some are more than a year in arrears.”

Right now those renting space at the airport do not receive a bill, but must voluntarily come into the commissioners’ office to pay the fees.

In August the commissioners are scheduled to go to court to determine if they can exercise eminent domain over additional acreage it wants at the airport.

Earlier this year the commissioners filed a petition seeking to acquire 47 acres at either end of the airpark, offering $280,000 for the entire acreage. The property is owned by North Kenova Holdings LLC and North Kenova Development Co. Inc. At the time Chesapeake attorney Richard Meyers, representing the county commission, said getting the property was a matter of safety.

However, Richard Wilson, whose family owns the North Kenova companies, wants more money than the county offered and the elimination of the airport so the land can be developed for commercial use. Wilson’s family allowed the county to use the land the airport is on as long as it remains dedicated as an airport. If the airport is shut down, the land will revert back to the Wilson family.

An executive session on the lawsuit is scheduled for April 5 with the commissioners, the Wilson family and both parties’ attorneys.

Attending the Tuesday work session were Commissioners Les Boggs and Bill Pratt, who are on opposite sides of the issue. Commissioner Freddie Hayes was absent.

“We have this valuable asset,” Boggs said. “I feel the lighting project is needed. The lighting project would make the airport a lot more valuable.”

However Pratt said he wants to wait until the biennial budget is passed to see if Gov. John Kasich gets his proposal for sales tax. The governor wants to reduce the state’s portion of the sales tax from 5 1/2 to 5 percent but also cut the county’s portion of that tax to below the current 1 1/2 percent.

“Until that happens in late June we have a lot of uncertainties,” Pratt said after the meeting. “We can’t make any big moves and $26,000 is a pretty good chunk of money.”

“I am for the project,” Boggs told Nenni. “I voted to do it. I would be willing to cut elsewhere in the budget. It is that important. It would be worth paying money now to get a whole lot later.”

But Pratt countered that if the pilots association wants the lighting now, then it will have to pick up the match.

“Somebody living in Decatur shouldn’t have to pay for the airport,” Pratt said at the meeting.

“Our local governments are getting smaller,” Pratt said in an interview later. “We can no longer afford the luxuries we had in the past. Those that utilized that benefit should come up with the local match. Until that happens I am not going to favor any county funds being put into that airport. It benefits so few in the county.”

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  • jimmer

    The “Airport” is nothing more than a playground for people with money. Give it back to the Wilson’s and let them develop it into something that can generate revenue. We might be able to at least get some jobs or tax revenue from it. I wonder who Les is trying to keep happy up there? From his recent arrest and the commissions endless financial troubles, he must be in deep to someone.

    (Report comment)

    • Digi

      That Jimmer is an excellent question! Sconce this is a county facility is the list of people renting hangers open to the public? Along with the delinquent rent just as taxes are?

      (Report comment)

  • RUNutz

    I would appreciate Mr. Nenni telling the commissioners and the public the total dollar amount in arrears for hangar rentals, as well as the montly income for hangar rentals through the deadline for meeting the FAA lighting installation grant, to determine the deficit funding amount. The money needed for the project may well lie within his own means.

    (Report comment)

    • Digi

      Good luck getting that! No one will reveal that because that will require people taking responsibility for something. And I am sure they do not want the public to know jus what a free ride that airport is giving people. Just more of the good old boy system at work there. Simply lock up those hangers that are behind and make them pay and you will see cash rolling in! Why give new lighting to deadbeats?

      (Report comment)

  • Viking01

    Well done Bill! Very nice to see someone have the county’s best interest in mind and to make sure we do not spend money WE DO NOT HAVE! Especially if there is not a financial gain to be made from the investment.

    (Report comment)

  • mikehaney

    “We have a problem collecting the money on the rents,” Nenni said. “Some are more than a year in arrears.”

    Right now those renting space at the airport do not receive a bill, but must voluntarily come into the commissioners’ office to pay the fees.

    In August the commissioners are scheduled to go to court to determine if they can exercise eminent domain over additional acreage it wants at the airport.

    —————First Step, Collect Back Rent————–
    ——————————————————–

    Earlier this year the commissioners filed a petition seeking to acquire 47 acres at either end of the air park, offering $280,000 for the entire acreage. The property is owned by North Kenova Holdings LLC and North Kenova Development Co. Inc. At the time Chesapeake attorney Richard Meyers, representing the county commission, said getting the property was a matter of safety.

    ——–We were held hostage on expansion in the Hill’s
    shopping center area also—————–
    ———————————————————
    With memorial hall falling in and the jail in pitiful shape; last one out lock the door.
    It’s way too late, any outsider wanting to invest will just pass thru. All they have to do is look at our depressed history and the way we maintain the few assets we do have.

    (Report comment)

  • Digi

    Why doesn’t Les pay the extra from his salary and take a cut if he thinks it’s such a good idea? Pratt is right the people shouldn’t have to fund the airport for the few that use it. Make cuts, where does Les propose more cuts go to? How about the law enforcement? Let’s cut them some more and then let’s see let’s cut back on some court house employees to get that money for the airport! See how well that goes over for extra airport funding for this million dollar fly by night landing strip.

    (Report comment)

  • Poor Richard

    There have been numerous editorials and citizen comments asking the county how much the airport is costing taxpayers and what benefits the airport serves to citizens. Are we flying in cargo? Renting to corporate helicopters or planes? What is the benefit to ALL CITIZENS, not just the few that have their planes located at the airport and spend the weekends flying around annoying all other citizens of the county. I have yet to see an article or an answer. Where’s the numbers? What is the lawsuit costing taxpayers???

    We have one commissioner that seems to have the best interest of the county in mind, we have another that never showed up for the discussion (yet again), and another who bases his decisions on the fly.

    “The lighting project would make the airport more valuable” was Boggs’ comment. Really? Valuable? you cannot sell it, how exactly will lighting make it more valuable?? Comments ‘based on the fly’ once again, with no research, no studies, no data, just ‘make it more valuable’ – how absurd the statements I continually read from this commissioner.

    God I wish we had more than one commissioner that was actually educated beyond elementary school!

    (Report comment)

    • Digi

      The problem lies with the voters though. They are the ones that keep electing people with no education to match the positions! You would think after years of this county going down hill that they would see what was going on! But no it’s that good old boy system still running at its finest and letting things like this happen. Some common sense in a few of these commissioners would be nice to see too!

      (Report comment)

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