06/07/14 — County wants out of Mount Olive Airport

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County wants out of Mount Olive Airport

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 7, 2014 10:34 PM

Wayne County commissioners are looking to shed the county's small portion of ownership of the Mount Olive Airport and in doing so, relieve the county of any liability for the facility.

But even if that happens, commissioners said they would continue to budget about $38,000 a year for the facility.

Mount Olive wouldn't be affected too much by the county pulling out of its ownership of the airport, Town Manager Charles Brown said. The county has had county commissioners at Mount Olive's airport committee meetings before, but the county doesn't have an active hand in the running of the airport.

"It's a town of Mount Olive operation," Brown said.

Day-to-day operations are managed through a fixed-base operator contracted through the town. The annual operations budget and debt service are paid through $40,000 from Mount Olive, the county's appropriation, hangar rentals and fuel sales.

A lack of money from the county would put stress on Mount Olive's budget to fulfill the airport's debt service, at least until the town pays off the $100,000 loan it got through the county from North Carolina's Eastern Region, Brown conceded.

"It would hurt us. That's a big chunk of the operating budget," he said.

The issue of the county's involvement with the airport surfaced last week during at a commissioners meeting at which Interim County Manager George Wood gave his proposed budget presentation.

Commissioner Ray Mayo said that the discussion reminded him that the county only owns a "short piece" of the runway at the airport.

It has been suggested in the past that the county convey that small portion to Mount Olive, he said.

"I was wondering what happened to that," he said. "Plus the liability on this county, just having that short piece of that runway, is tremendous. I want the people in Mount Olive to know that we are still planning on making that contribution of $38,000 or somewhere along there to the Mount Olive Airport. The key is that the county needs to not have the liability on that short runway. I was just wondering if there has been any discussions along those lines?"

County Attorney Borden Parker said he was not aware of any.

Parker said that in the past he had asked for a copy of the agreement that was supposedly made between the county and the town with the federal government when the airport first started receiving loans.

"I have never been able to get anybody to give me that agreement," Parker said. "The county does not have a copy of it."

Wood said he would contact Brown about getting a copy of the agreement to start a discussion of the issue.

"I don't disagree with anything that you said," Wood said. "I think you ought to get out of the liability of it. I think it should be under them. But you can still make a contribution because, if nothing more, it is for economic development.

"I was not aware that you owned part of it."

In a lawsuit lawyers would cast a wide net that could involve the county, Wood warned.

Mayo said the airport remains a good tool for economic development.

"The liability is the only reason that I am bringing it up," he said.