Airport Officials Request $98,319

Editor’s Note: During layout, the second half of this story was mistakenly left out.  Read it in its entirety here: 

The Spalding County Board of Commissioners June 6 meeting resulted in lengthy discussion of funding for the Griffin-Spalding County Airport, with the Airport Advisory Board requesting reinstatement of $98,319 to its fiscal year 2011 budget.

Commissioner Gwen Flowers-Taylor immediately moved to deny the request, a motion seconded by Commissioner Bob Gilreath.

Among Gilreath’s concerns was his assertion that “the Board (of Commissioners) has no authority on the operations of the airport.”

Furthermore, he stated, “We never hear from you unless you want money.”

Airport Manager Robert Mohl, who appeared along with Airport Advisory Board member Carl Pruitt, said airport officials “would love to have jet aircraft operating in the Griffin-Spalding Airport.”

Mohl said he believes the addition of larger aircraft would be a boon not only to the airport, but local industry, as well.

Gilreath contended the airport already has the capacity to land such aircraft, citing the airport’s own Web site as his source of this information.

Mohl acknowledged smaller jets can utilize the current airport, but not the larger aircraft corporations typically operate.

However, Gilreath again countered this by saying he has conducted “extensive research” which indicates corporate America is moving away from the use of jets and are instead taking advantage of technological advances that allow teleconferencing as a less expensive alternative.

“Has the airport done anything to actually bring industry into this county or jobs to this county,” Gilreath asked, while claiming that instead, the airport has for years failed financially.

“That’s why you’re here tonight asking for money,” he stated.

“Yes, sir,” Mohl responded, admitting that the airport currently operates with an annual deficit, but said that is why airport officials “seek to attract that corporate piece of the puzzle to turn ourselves around, get into the black and begin operating at a profit.”

When Gilreath repeatedly pressed Mohl for a firm yes or no answer to the question of whether the addition of such corporate jet aircraft would be the definitive solution to the airport’s budget woes, Mohl said, “I would hope that’s the case,” “That’s the goal,” and “I can’t predict the future,” before finally saying the airport’s financial problems will not be immediately solved.

“That’s not going to happen in the first year or two,” he said, later addressing the issue of what steps have been taken to streamline airport operations. “We’ve cut and cut as much as we can. Every year, we’ve gotten meaner and leaner.”

Flowers-Taylor maintained her opposition to the funding request, stating, “Why would we keep paying for an airport that’s sucking wind?”

She also questioned the need to reinstate the requested funding when only one month remains in FY 2011.

“What are you going to do in the next month that you haven’t done in the first 11?” she asked.

With an annual operating loss estimated between $250,000 and $350,000, Mohl said the losses have been covered by the city of Griffin, and it was city officials who requested he approach the county, seeking its financial assistance if the funds existed in the BOC’s contingency fund.

When Deputy County Manager Virginia Beams stated there were not sufficient funds to honor the airport’s request, the discussion moved on to the existing city/county agreement.

According to County Manager William Wilson, the most recent airport funding contract expired, and in the interim, the 50/50 funding has been based upon an “unwritten agreement.”

Gilreath strongly objected to such a county commitment with no written contract, but Wilson said that is the way it has been done for years.

“Just because that’s the way it’s been done doesn’t mean it has to continue,” Gilreath retorted.

Wilson said despite there being a lack of contingency funds to reinstate the airport’s $98,319 county funding, he does believe revenue would allow the funding to be approved.

To allow officials additional time to research the financials, commissioners then voted 5-0 to table the issue, which will be readdressed at its June 20 meeting.

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