Budget cuts hamper airport activities

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Having dealt with cuts in the budget for the past two years, the Carroll County Airport Commission hesitantly bit the bullet in preparing its 2005 budget request Thursday night.

With the assistance of Justice of the Peace Eva Reeve, whose district encompasses the airport, commissioners reviewed several things which have been let go, along with concerns about recent improvements which are already showing signs of deterioration due to the lack of staffing.

The lack of staffing was underscored at the close of the meeting when Terry Evans, asking for "due process," requested assistance in renting a hangar.

In the past two years, the airport's operating budget has dropped from $39,000 to $14,000, assisted largely by the elimination of an airport manager's position.

While the commission has a fairly sizable war chest, it largely consists of state and federal grant funds earmarked for specific projects.

Much of the manager's work has been being done by volunteers this year, but commissioners appeared reluctant to continue relying on them. In addition, without a manager, the commission has no system in place for the leasing of hangars.

Reeve stated that she had met with County Judge Mike Botelho about the need for a full-time person at the airport, and that he is exploring the possibility of cities contributing to the budget. Response from the City of Berryville has been optimistic, she said.

Another possibility is combing the county's part-time position of Office of Emergency Management Coordinator with that of an airport custodian, though Reeve acknowledged that finding someone with that combination of job skills would be difficult.

"We need someone to maintain, mow and watch the gate," said Commission Chairman Steve Rose.

The chairman alluded to the campaign for county judge, in which Republican candidate Richard Williams has called for elimination of the airport.

Reeve said that one element in support of keeping the airport open is a 19-year obligation to keep the airport operating, or the county would have to repay several hundred thousand dollars in federal grants.

The commission agreed to request $18,000 for an airport manager/custodian.

Repair of a burned-out electrical phase, which has languished most of the year, was also addressed, and a $3,100 request for plumbing and electrical work was approved.

Concern about weeds again appearing in the taxi way, resurfaced earlier this year, was addressed. The weed problem is complicated by so-called unstable "fatty clay" underlying the airport.

A request for $3,000 for professional services, which includes fairly frequent service of the airport's pilot-control light, and pest control, was approved. It was noted that one T-hangar is infested with termites.

Other elements of the commission's budget request includes: $2,100 for service contracts; $1,000 for a quiet title to firm up airport boundaries; $800 for a pay phone and a line for computer service in the terminal building/pilots lounge; $50 for postage; $3,100 for building improvements, including work on the roof of the terminal; $500 for a mower; $50 for dues and memberships; $700 for runway light bulbs; and $2,100 for meteorological service.

Reeve indicated that the quorum court is considering developing a resolution making agreements with one county judge binding on the successor, unless overridden by the quorum court. Her suggestion alluded to former Judge Ed Robertson's agreement to create a road behind the airport meeting building, which Botelho overrode.

In addition to budget work, the commission reviewed the lease agreement with Tri-State Airmotive, which is complicated by errors in an earlier survey.

Based on the original description, 46,000 square feet is being leased for one cent per square foot per year. The commission, however, has no record of receiving the lease payment, and it is unclear if the money is going to First National Bank of Berryville, the Berryville Industrial Development Commission, or directly to the county.

According to citizen and former commissioner Al Iler, documents show that a lease exists between the Berryville Industrial Development Commission and the Carroll County Airport Commission, with a 1989 sub-lease from Berryville Industrial Development Commission to Tri-State Airmotive.

The commission approved drawing up a new lease between the county and Tri-State, and canceling the previous lease.

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