Edgar County has the opportunity to capture an estimated $854,000 in outside funds to improve the airport, but there is a catch.
Like the old saying that it takes money to make money, the airport is facing a situation where it requires money to spend money.
The county was informed earlier this month the Illinois Department of Transportation can provide funds to expand the west apron to accommodate more aircraft and provide safer aircraft movement. The project would also relocate the current fuel tanks and increase fueling capabilities at the airport.
Here’s the problem, a local match of more than $62,000 is needed to move ahead with the work. Without the local match, the airport cannot accept the money and it will go somewhere else.
Airport manager Jimmy Wells explained Tuesday morning the local match is close to the airport’s entire $72,000 budget in local tax funds. That money pays for maintenance, mowing, snow plowing, $22,000 for a maintenance employee, $9,000 for a part-time clerical position, an hourly maintenance worker and Well’s $13,500 salary as a part-time manager.
“I’m on the finance committee for my church, and it has twice the budget,” said Wells.
The expansion project is needed and not simply a way to spend money because it is available.
He explained some of the corporate planes coming into the airport now are so big it is a challenge to turn around on the apron in front of the terminal. Planes that are normally parked on the apron must be moved to accommodate the larger planes.
“In the last two weeks, I’ve seen five big planes land here,” said Wells.
One of the planes that came in was so large the wing span was wider than the taxiway leading from the main runway to the apron.
The IDOT money will expand the apron by approximately 170 feet west and 211 feet north. Moving the fuel farm further west not only provides a safer location but allows for almost a doubling of fuel storage as well as the capability to install a credit card reader for after hours fueling.
He explained the money IDOT is offering is derived from taxes on airline tickets and aviation fuel.
“It’s already in a bank somewhere – if we don’t get it, it goes to Chicago,” he said.
Wells stated the expansion will improve the airport’s ability to serve the community and create a better impression of Edgar County for the business people arriving on the corporate planes.
“My passion is to make things better for the community,” said Wells.
This is not the first time the airport has faced such a funding dilemma, and the county board’s standard response was to place the burden of finding the match on the airport advisory board
Wells served on the airport advisory board for 18 years before assuming the part-time manager duties.
“There were times when I’ve seen people just open their wallets and start pulling out bills,” said Wells about previous donations drives for special projects.
He added an important effort to match funds for the new crosswind runway resulted from money provided by the late Jack Asher for land acquisition.
The apron expansion was discussed Monday morning during the Edgar County Board study session.
The consensus among the board members is the county lacks leeway in the budget to provide between $60,000 and $65,000 to guarantee the airport can get the IDOT funds.
“Edgar County has never come up with the 10 percent,” said Karl Farnham Jr. “It has always been done with private donations. “I’ve heard from some people that have donated in the past that they are not so gung-ho.”
Wells repeated that concern Tuesday morning, noting some longtime airport supporters are put off by the business lease turmoil between the airport and tenant RSB Aviation. That matter, however, appears to be moving toward resolution.
Seeking donations is not the only option. Ben Jenness recalled at least one time in the past when the airport advisory board borrowed money to secure the match. The loan was repaid using the airport’s operating funds, but that approach creates a serious downside.
“As a result, they didn’t do all of the maintenance they should have,” said Jenness.
Alan Zuber urged other county board members to avoid discouragement because some past donors are reluctant to help at this time.
“There may be people out there who are willing to take their place,” said Zuber.
Board chairman Chris Patrick was not as optimistic.
“It’s a pretty small pool,” Patrick said, regarding donors capable of providing large sums.
Wells told the county board the airport’s engineering firm deserves to know if the project is a go by the July 10 county board meeting. He reported a contact at the engineering firm is concerned a failure to accept the money may seriously impact the airport’s ability to obtain IDOT money in the future.
“I know the county doesn’t have the money, but I’d hate to see us lose the opportunity,” said Jenness.