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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