Airport Authority Chairman Dick Morrow said at Monday’s meeting that the authority’s Transition Committee is working on the transition of airport operations and ownership from the city and county to the Airport Authority, “to get away from politics and make it a standalone business.”
Morrow was explaining the plans to the members of the Airport Authority who were not at last week’s Transition Committee meeting – Spalding County Board of Commissioners members Raymond Ray and Bart Miller. Miller is the new appointee to the Airport Authority and questioned the need for a new airport during his campaign.
Miller asked Monday why the proposed site was chosen, “with power lines out there and holes to be filled in just to bring it up.”
Morrow said that the selection process included overlays from the Federal Aviation Administration and proximity of some of the other sites to landfills, which leads to concerns about bird strikes. He also said “the FAA wanted it in proximity to I-75, which eliminated the western end of the county.”
Morrow said the proposed site is “the poorest Census tract, (and) has the fewest obstructions. Yes, there’s hoops and hollers out there, but it balances out.”
Miller also noted that Henry County is about to get $3 million from the FAA to extend its airport’s runway and Butts County is “closest of any of them to 1-75.”
Morrow said “the FAA said the Butts County site won’t work because of the landfill and the Henry County expansion doesn’t affect us. If Butts builds and we don’t go over there (to the new site) all the money goes there (to Butts County).”
Airport Authority Secretary Treasurer Joanne Todd asked Miller, “How will it create jobs here,” if the airports are in Butts or Henry?
Miller said, “We had jobs like at Nacom, who took the tax breaks, and then leave when it’s over.”
Todd said there have been four or five prospects which have looked at that building and Morrow said the county has lost others because of the short airport runway, which can’t accommodate business jets.
“If we want to make money we need to build a new airport,” he said.
Airport Authority member Keith Smith explained where the funding would come from and that it’s not all taxpayer dollars. Smith said 90 percent is federal, from the FAA, with 5 percent each from the state and locally.
Airport Director Robert Mohl said, “The majority of aviation projects funding comes from the user fee system on fuel sales. It’s a trust fund established by the FAA for projects,” paid for with fuel sales and ticket prices.
Mohl and Morrow said four parcels have been identified as nonessential – 14 acres which make up Airport Road Park, 16 acres currently leased to the Kiwanis Club of Griffin, 8.5 acres behind but not including the National Guard armory, where the bike trails are, and another 50 acres, which Morrow said was the former grass cross runway, which is no longer in use.
Borrowing against the parcels or selling them would allow for the purchase of property for the new airport or to build new hangars or buy some of the existing hangars at the airport, with at least one soon to be available. Currently, all of the hangars are privately owned with the land leased on long-term leases, with only two buildings owned by the airport – the T-hangar and the airport offices.
Mohl said the airport is close to breaking even, if tax revenue generated and depreciation are included. For fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, the airport had $542,765 in total revenue and $789,947 in expenditures.
The deficit of $247,182, minus depreciation of $117,180, leaves a $130,002 operation deficit. Adding in the $110,000 in ad valorem taxes generated by the airport, the burden to taxpayers is $20,002, Mohl said, or about 31 cents per resident.
Morrow said the property tax on the average plane at the airport now, valued at $50,000, is $826, while the property tax on a small business jet, valued at $15 million, is $256,000. Cooper Lighting, Morrow said, has one at Falcon Field in Peachtree City.
In his presentation to the authority, Mohl also had a list of businesses that have left the current airport, with a couple of those going to Falcon Field or Thomaston, both of which have longer runways. Those that left include Air Charters Inc., Bob Long Aircraft Sales, Gardner Aviation, GA Aircraft Interiors, Low Pass Aviation, Phoenix Air Care, Southern Safety, Trans National Airways, Christian Air Ministry, and Aeropaint II, which also had a subcontractor.