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Airport under scrutiny

City council weighs funding options without grant money

Discussion about the city-owned Warren Field Airport surfaced during the Washington City Council’s meeting Monday, with Councilman Doug Mercer talking about the city’s investments in the airport.

“We’ve indicated Vision 100 grants in there (Capital Improvement Plan) for next five years of 165 grand plus or minus. The CIP we adopted last year had a substantially larger expenditure for the airport, and I recognize that there is some real concern about the airport and what we are going to do out there,” Mercer said. “But at the same token, if we’re gong to continue to operate that facility, we’re going to have to put some money into it. That’s the only way it’s ever going to pay its way. Hopefully, with the new requests for proposals that we’ve got going out that we are going to see a difference in the cost of operations from that standpoint. Until we have got an empty hangar sitting out there to rent or we’ve got arrangements and design for a hangar that if somebody comes in we can say, ‘All right, here it is and we’ll build it if you lease if for X numbers of years at such and such a cost.’”

Currently, Tradewind Aviation manages the airport for the city. The city is seeking proposals from other entities that may be interested in managing the airport. Under its original contract with Tradewind Aviation, the city provided an annual subsidy of $50,000. That subsidy was increased by $28,820 in January 2008. The subsidy is for airport operations, not any of Tradewind Aviation’s enterprise activities such as flight instruction and skydiving training.

Mercer isn’t the only council member interested in the future of the airport, which is not generating enough revenue to cover the cost of operating it. The city’s airport fund lost $61,234 in fiscal year 2010-2011, according to an audit of the city’s books.

“I’d like to echo what Councilman Mercer is saying,” Mayor Archie Jennings said. “I know Councilman (Bobby) Roberson is one that’s asked to put a close eye on the airport. I think you’re exactly right. I think what we’ve done — and we all know the airport has a long, twisted history — but I think we’ve been waiting for someone to come in and fix up our airport. … We keep waiting around for something to happen to the airport.”

Jennings said that grants the city used to rely on to help improve the airport — and other city facilities — are becoming less and less available.

“The manager and I were somewhere this past week and the funding agency said, ‘Hey, these grants and things, they’re going away,’” Jennings said. “So, this silver-bullet idea that somebody from D.C. or the state is going to send us a pot of money just because we raised our hand, we’re going to have to take care of our own. We’re going to have to decide how many mouths we can feed and whether the airport is one of them.”

Roberson replied, “I agree.”

“If we’re going to do it, we need to do it,” Jennings said about the city spending money to improve the airport.

The city’s CIP calls for spending $383,000 on drainage improvements at the airport in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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