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Ordinance on Airport Lease Narrowly Passes First Reading Amid Questions

Daniel Prince

Hart casts tiebreaking vote; council members may meet with Airport Commission soon

At last week’s Union County Council meeting, Council passed first reading of an ordinance leasing airport property, limited fixed base operator, sale of aviation fuel, and other leases and grants. Council member David Sinclair moved to table the ordinance until more information could be gathered, but the motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with Frank Hart casting the deciding vote. Sinclair said some of the Airport Commission members wanted clarification as to what the ordinance means, including whether the airport would remain a public airport. Frank Hart said the Airport Commission had found a new commercial fixed base operator, Phoenix Air, and the commission wants to recommend to the county that the airport be leased to the fixed base operator. Hart said doing that requires an ordinance. He said the ordinance is similar to that of other counties who lease their airports to an FBO. He said the ordinance will be based on the term sheet negotiated between the Airport Commission and the operator, but the ordinance is the legal process by which the agreement has to happen. Airport Manager Ronnie Wade said the county will retain ownership of the airport, but the fixed based operator group wants to do commercial flying. They have 11 pilots and several commercial planes, and they want to build a couple of new hangars at the airport. Hart said there is plenty of time to adjust the ordinance and find out more information, as there are two more readings and a public hearing before it would be fully adopted. Hart said the airport commission is tasked with looking out for the best interest of the airport and to move it forward, and while not all the members agreed with the majority, they decided that having a commercial operator would help with the number of operations per day, which would open up additional federal money toward upcoming airport projects, such as the runway extension, parallel taxiway, and more. He suggested council members might even want to hold a joint meeting with the airport commission to find out more. Tracie Campbell and David Sinclair voted against first reading, while Ben Ivey and Carolyn Rutherford voted yes. Frank Hart cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of passing first reading.

In other items from the meeting, Clerk of Court Melanie Lawson asked council to allow her to replace a budgeted position in general sessions, as someone was working their two-week notice. Council unanimously agreed. Frank Hart noted that Union County Detention Center Director Neil McKeown is working to add on some parking at the facility, but to do that will require relocating some fencing. Hart said McKeown got a quote from A-1 Fence Company for $4015. The project will have to go through the county’s procurement processes. Council voted unanimously to appropriate that amount for fencing from council contingency funds. Frank Hart recommended that Nancy Mahan be appointed to the Airport Commission to fill Jeff Reynolds’ unexpired term. Reynolds passed away earlier in the year. Council also approved moving the balance of the Non-Departmental Contingency account to the Non-Departmental Operational Contingency account. Hart explained the move would help to cover remaining outstanding invoices from the previous fiscal year and allow the previous fiscal year to be closed out. The amount moved was $58,274.

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