The Griffin-Spalding Airport Authority is moving toward operation of the existing airport, but would also like to own the property, leases and equipment. At a Transition Committee meeting Monday, Airport Authority Chairman Dick Morrow said, “We need to control our own destiny, down to the land. We’ll never get out of the trap we’re in if we have to go to the city and county to do anything.”
Morrow asked for a letter to be sent to the city and county, requesting that all property and equipment be transferred to the Airport Authority. There are some concerns about how or if that can be done without impacting the state and federal grants and loans to the airport.
City Attorney Drew Whalen said the city and county, as owners, are part of the sponsorship agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration and Georgia Department of Transportation for the airport. There are several of the agreements, each for a different grant project which is bound until the term expires, as well as a new one coming up for a new beacon at the airport.
“They won’t let us do it if the Airport Authority doesn’t have any revenue coming in,” Whalen said.
Another issue is requesting GDOT and the FAA to declare some of the airport property as nonessential to airport operations. This would allow the Airport Authority, once it has possession of the land, to borrow against or even sell off the nonessential parcels.
Four parcels have been identified by airport officials 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 adjacent to and north of the 14- and 8.5-acre sites. The Kiwanis and Airport Road parcels are two of the larger leases with the airport, currently at $18,000 and $90,000.
Borrowing against the parcels 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. Currently, all of the hangars are privately owned with the land leased on long-term leases.
New hangars could be built on the nonessential tracts if they are not sold, but Airport Director Robert Mohl noted, “We’d have to pay for improvements. If we asked FAA or GDOT to fund taxiways, then the tracts are no longer considered nonessential.”
Other issues the city, county and Airport Authority will have to work through include personnel, insurance, contracts and leases. The most likely plan would have the Airport Authority contract with the city to staff the airport with the current three employees, as well as provide pension and health insurance as it does now, but this would require a contract with the city for the services, plus the other services, including financial and payroll, the city would provide.
The current leases are with the city and/or county and would have to be transferred over to the Airport Authority. Also to transfer the property, the city and county would need to get appraisals on the land and equipment and determine the value and how it impacts their budgets, as well as the future funding of the airport operations.
The city and county will still need to support the airport for the foreseeable future, Morrow said. The goal is to be self-supporting, he said.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Alexander said the airport “is real close to break-even right now, if you take depreciation out,” and taxes generated were included as revenue.
The property taxes paid by tenants, fuel taxes and other sales taxes on purchases by tenants are not included in the airport’s budget. Just two of those were noted, the $30,000 in sales taxes from the annual Kiwanis Fair, and Alexander said his business has $4 million is sales, paying $20,000 a year in sales taxes.
The next steps are to get verification in writing from GDOT and the FAA that this can be done. Morrow said GDOT’s Carol Comer has told him GDOT is supportive of the plan and has no objections to the nonessential declarations.
The goal is to have the airport owned and operated by the Airport Authority by the end of this fiscal year, which for the city and county is June 30.