By Jenn Brookens
FAIRMONT – Martin County commissioners have approved assisting the city of Fairmont by putting $100,000 toward rehabilitation projects at the Fairmont airport.
Troy Nemmers, Fairmont’s public works director, and City Administrator Mike Humpal approached the commissioners at their meeting Tuesday.
“Originally, the city’s contribution was to be 5 percent,” Nemmers explained.
But the cost of the project went up and so did the percentage the city was expected to pay. While the Federal Aviation Administration will cover most of the $4.8 million project, reauthorization of federal funding bumped the city of Fairmont’s share to 10 percent, or $480,000. This is $350,000 more than what the city originally had budgeted.
The project covers rehabilitation of the airport’s main runway, the taxi runway and the apron hangar.
“We have 17 businesses that have planes at the airport, plus we have several major businesses that use this airport,” Humpal said. “The airport is not only an asset to Fairmont, but to all of Martin County.”
The city asked the county to kick in $100,000 to help with the project.
Commissioner Steve Pierce stated he is on the local airport commission, and would not make a motion or vote in the matter, but acknowledged he is in support of the project.
“We have a long history of the city and county cooperation,” Humpal said. “We’ve had a good partnership in the past. We’ve built that intersection north of the interstate, the roads to the ethanol plant, and many other economic development activities.”
Commissioner Dan Schmidtke said he had mixed feelings about the issue.
“We know that if [the price] hadn’t changed, you wouldn’t be here,” he said to Nemmers and Humpal. “The problem is that the city has the same taxing authority as the county does … I worry about a precedent setting here.”
However, Schmidtke made the motion to approve the county contribution. It passed with Pierce abstaining. The contribution will come from the county’s general funds.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners discussed proposed legislation that would offer a tax break to ethanol plants. Martin County Assessor Dan Whitman said 28 percent of the value of the buildings would be exempt from property taxes. This would be an enormous loss of revenue for Welcome and Fairmont, and for the county. The legislation was introduced by state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, but has yet to be read by the tax committee.
“It’s not active now, but in the next session it could show up again or get attached to something else,” Whitman warned.
Whitman said he talked to Rosen about his concerns, and he encouraged commissioners to contact Rosen and state Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont. Commissioners passed a motion to send letters expressing their concerns to the lawmakers.