County OK's Tourism Funds for Airport
The Moore County Airport will receive its first infusion of tourism funds to cover improvements planned in time for the back-to-back U.S. Open and Women’s Open championships in 2014.
The board voted 3-1 to adopt a resolution appropriating $344,445 in room occupancy tax funds for use as the local match to draw down $3.1 million in federal funds for capital improvements.
Commissioner Tim Lea cast the dissenting vote after questioning decisions by the Moore County Airport Authority and its management. Chairman Larry Caddell was absent, but the other commissioners, Nick Picerno, Craig Kennedy and Vice Chairman Jimmy Melton, voted for the resolution.
“Are we going to have to move the college?” asked Lea, a former trustee of Sandhills Community College.
His question focused on one of the three projects planned for the federal, state and local funds. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is providing most of the money, mandates two of the projects —clearing obstructions and improvements to the runway safety area.
However, the third, extension of the runway by 400 feet, is not an FAA requirement.
Lea recalled an earlier time when the college trustees were advised by airport officials that there would be no further extensions of the runway.
He said Piedmont Community College was moved because of growth at the Triad airport and wondered if the day will come when the Moore County Airport becomes so large that it will be necessary to move Sandhills Community College.
“To the best of my knowledge, this should not affect the college,” replied Ron Maness, airport manager.
Lea’s comments echoed those of Dave Korb, who spoke during the public-comment period at the beginning of the meeting.
Korb was speaking on behalf of his father, Fred Korb, who lives in Whispering Pines, the village that abuts the airport.
Korb asked the board to postpone action on the airport request until further study could be conducted.
“This is something the county doesn’t need and its citizens don’t want, especially the hundreds of those who have recorded their opposition on our website and by signing our petition, demanding an end to funding for expansion by the FAA,” Korb said.
Korb said the airport plans to spend $16.2 million on improvements before 2014, when Moore County hosts back-to-back Opens. He said the authority is proceeding with these plans despite the loss of about $150,000 in operational costs in the past year.
His criticism was also directed at airport plans to conduct a third study of commercial airline passenger service feasibility and the listing of recent property acquisitions in the name of the airport rather than the county, which owns the airport.
Calling the passenger service a “pipe dream,” Korb said US Airways will soon launch round-trip service to Washington, D.C., from the Fayetteville airport, further reducing the likelihood that the Moore County Airport will be able to attract commercial airline service.
Korb called the airport wasteful and complained about a lack of transparency by the authority.
Lea said he has heard from “a tremendous number of property owners in the area” who have questions about the future expansion of the airport and the effect it may have on their own property.
Maness defended the runway extension as desirable because it gives pilots more flexibility in landing and takeoff, especially by larger aircraft.
The county, the airport and the Convention and Visitors Bureau last year entered into a negotiated interlocal agreement that authorizes the airport to use a percentage of the taxes collected for the purpose of promoting tourism in Moore County.
The reasoning centers on the airport’s role in handling thousands of airborne visitors during major golf tournaments as well as year-round to take advantage of golfing opportunities in the area. The agreement necessitated an amendment to the legislation authorizing the room occupancy levy.
However, the tourism tax appropriation was not the only issue attracting criticism of the airport during the Tuesday meeting.
Lea also raised questions about budget amendments allowing the airport to buy a Cessna 162 and provide in-house aircraft maintenance.
These issues were raised earlier in the meeting when Lea asked that the budget amendment items be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion.
Lea asked why the airport has money to buy an airplane but does not have enough money to pay for improvements needed to prepare for the U.S. Opens.
Maness said the airport would use internal funds to pay for the aircraft, which he said became available rather unexpectedly and the authority wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire the craft. He said the airplane will be rented out and will make money for the airport.
“This is a revenue-generating piece of equipment,” Maness said of the Cessna.
Commissioner Nick Picerno asked Maness to clarify the source of funding for the aircraft purchase and, later in the meeting, the source of funding for the FAA grants. Picerno said he wanted to make sure that none of the money is coming from local taxpayer funds.
“These are strictly internal funds,” Maness said of the $130,000 to buy the Cessna 162.
Maness said he could not remember any occasion when the airport had asked the county to provide operational funds. He said airport requests have always been for capital improvements. The airport makes money by renting aircraft, selling aircraft fuel, hangar rentals and other resources.
In recent years this source of revenue has been lower because of the economic recession.
In response to other questions from Picerno, Maness explained that FAA grants are not tax funds but are fees collected at airports for distribution to small and large airports across the country. Because the Moore County Airport no longer has commercial passenger service, the authority cannot apply directly to the FAA for grants. Instead, the airport applies to the N.C. Department of Transportation, which allocates federal funds through its aviation division. Such allocations require state and local matches of 10 percent.
Picerno suggested that airport officials make a better effort to communicate with their neighbors, perhaps by holding a public hearing, to make sure everyone understands the functions and plans of the airport.
Maness said the authority is already making plans to address these issues.
Melton, who presided Tuesday, explained that the chairman’s wife, Lisa Caddell, recently sustained a serious injury when she broke a leg in an accident.
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