DOBSON — The airport in Holly Springs could cost Surry County about a million dollars, according to a budget funding request presented to the Board of Commissioners.
Most of the amount requested would be to match grants as part of extending the runway at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.
Airport Authority Chairman John Springthorpe told the board last week that a project designed to lengthen, widen and strengthen the runway and to extend the taxi-way at the airport will require nearly $900,000 in matching grant funds, and another $96,000 is necessary for legal fees incurred in a dispute with a former authority board member.
Springthorpe told commissioners most litigation, including a lawsuit in federal court, with former airport board member Billy Hicks has been disposed in favor of the airport. A Federal Aviation Administration complaint still lingers, but is likely to wrap up in coming months.
According to Springthorpe’s budget request, the authority needs another $96,193 for legal expenses. Last year commissioners appropriated $78,999 for the legal battle.
The bulk of Springthorpe’s request, however, was for dollars to match grants associated with the runway project.
According to Springthorpe, grading associated with the project is nearing completion. Holly Springs Church Road has also been rerouted. Having gained additional grant funding for apron rehabilitation and environmental mitigation, the authority’s grant match has increased. The authority needs a little more than $344,000 in matching funds to complete the grading and other preparatory work in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
With the preparatory work likely to conclude prior to the end of the next fiscal year, Springthorpe also requested $530,000 needed to match grants to begin paving, painting and lighting the runway.
He noted, commissioners could put off the $530,000 appropriation until the following fiscal year. It’s likely the project would wrap up in 2018 or 2019.
The runway project at the airport began 15 years ago, according to Springthorpe, and it represents a $19.5 million investment.
“What do you see going forward?” asked County Commissioner Eddie Harris. “Is your wish list complete after this?”
“After the project is complete it will require about a $15,000 match per year to maintain the asset,” answered Springthorpe.
Springthorpe claimed, though the project may be pricey, the community is reaping the benefits of the airport.
“Having four business airplanes operating out of our airport is a big deal,” said Springthorpe, before noting SouthData, Renfro Corp., Pike Electric, and Insteel base planes at the airport.
Springthorpe said the airport was named the number four general aviation airport in the state in an N.C. State University study. It’s also number eight in taxes collected on airplanes.
The report claims about $12.4 million in local property taxes is generated from tenants and businesses using the airport.
In an email to Commissioner Larry Phillips, Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove stated there was no way to accurately determine whether the $12.4 million estimate is correct, calling the figure “subjective.”
He did confirm about $137,000 in property taxes is collected directly from airplanes based at the airport.
It’s possible the new runway could also attract larger planes to base operations out of the airport, said Springthorpe.
“It’s always a competition to attract those aircraft.”
The authority chairman said the longer runway will also help existing clients. On warmer days some planes based at the airport are not able to take off on the existing runway with a full payload of fuel. They are forced to fly to Winston-Salem, land, fuel and pick up passengers who drive from Mount Airy to meet the plane.
He said the longer runway should alleviate the necessity to do that.
Another discussion emerged regarding the city of Mount Airy’s role at the airport.
After asking Springthorpe if hangar rentals and other operations could completely fund operations at the airport, Board of Commissioners Chairman Buck Golding asked if any of the financial burden of running the airport fell on the shoulders of the city.
“Mount Airy hasn’t been contributing since 2010,” answered Springthorpe.
“So that agreement is they appoint two (of seven airport board members) and provide nothing?” asked Commissioner Larry Johnson.
Golding confirmed Johnson’s presumption was correct.
Springthorpe noted the city had petitioned the airport board to agree to be annexed into Mount Airy in years past, attributing the move to the city’s attempt to collect property taxes on the aircraft based at the airport.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.