The Randolph County Board of Commissioners Monday heard a request from the county airport board regarding plans for a new terminal to replace the current small and outdated facility.
Airport Board Treasurer Dale Moore said the county has worked with the commissioners over the past seven years to totally rebuild the airport with the exception of the 70-year old terminal and hangars. In the process, they have leveraged more than $7 million from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
Airport engineer Jason Clearwaters said with the airport’s new runway, taxiway, and airplane parking area, it is one of the best general aviation airports in the state, with the exception of its outdated terminal.
“We’ve worked to identify funding sources,” Clearwaters said. “We have about $625,000 available from FAA and INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation). Nothing has been designed, nothing is set in stone. It is felt airport income would be increased through hangar rental and increased fuel sales.”
He said users of the airport, over the past several years, have asked for upgrades – especially for a more welcoming terminal building.
“There are no hangars available,” he said. “Those in existence are all rented and people often ask for additional spaces.”
The airport is seeing a double digit increase annually in its income.
“We need to move forward,” Clearwaters said. “We’ve been planning this for three years, but we’ve not asked for assistance. The FAA and INDOT expect the community to step up to meet its needs.
“We really need to nail down a budget for this project so we can proceed with the design phase.”
He said a budget estimate would be based on the concept plan which is not yet finalized.
Airport Manager Eric Livingston said many corporate officials come to Randolph County to do business in high-powered jet aircraft.
“Most every one of your constituents have in some way benefited from these airport users,” he told the commissioners.
Clearwaters said it sounds kind of corny, but business executives don’t come to town on a greyhound bus.
Airport board member Linda Wilcox said that while the airport’s revenue is up, in part due to an increase of about 30 percent in jet fuel sales, based on Indiana code – revenue accrued by the airport is returned directly to the county. So it can’t be saved up for future projects.
“That’s not an option for us,” Wilcox said. “That’s why we’re here and we’re not looking to do it ourselves.”
She noted that the current airport terminal is not ADA (disability access) compliant.
“You can’t get a wheelchair into the front door, so you definitely can’t get one in the restroom,” she said. “Lights and Flights is a community event that attracts people to the airport who may need to use the current facility.
Wilcox said the airport board is investigating possibly becoming an “airport authority,” which would mean it could keep its own proceeds for use as it sees fit.
Airport Board Secretary Phil Holiday said the county’s match for a $600,000 FAA grant would be $35,000. He said increased fuel sales mean the revenue for construction would be paid back in about 12 years.
County Economic Development Director and State Representative Greg Beumer said the airport is important to the county’s employers.
“Air travel is going to play a more significant role in our lives as we move into the future,” Beumer said.
The commissioners did not vote on the matter.
NEW HIGHWAY EMPLOYEE
The commissioners approved a request by County Highway Superintendent Mike Haffner to establish an additional employee position for his department. Haffner said he has one person on military leave for nine months to a year and a second employee on family medical leave.
“It’s not so much we’re adding numbers as we’re trying to address a situation that’s beyond my control,” Haffner said. “If everybody comes back, we have a person retiring next year and we could not fill that position if the situation warrants.”
Commissioner Mike Wickersham suggested considering a part time position.
Haffner said he needs trained and experienced personnel to operate the department’s road bermer and snow plows.
“After the winter season, I plan on hiring one person anyhow,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Chalfant said the highway department will need help regardless of what type of a winter we get.
Commissioner Gary Girton said he’d prefer the part time position, although he understands Haffner’s hesitation regarding possibly not finding an experienced person to operate the snowplows.