The Devil In The Details Has Been Exorcised

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The following is written in response to the Guest Comment in the May 4 issue of the Roundup, titled, "Devil in the detail" with formation of the Airport Authority, by Robert P. Oswald.

In August 2006, the Airport Task Force (TF) was formed. During the first meeting, a Mission Statement was created: "(To) promote the prosperity and integrity of the Payson Airport with respect, and as it relates, to fiscal responsibility/self-support, tourism/public relations, community service and support, general aviation and related industry promotion and development."

From that initial meeting the TF met steadily to accomplish these goals. When we determined that we had a winning solution, benefiting both the airport and the Town, the Mayor asked for a Special Town Council meeting (March 8) where our solution, an Airport Authority (AA), was approved by all council members present. Our presentation is available in the town's Web site for review.

We appreciate Mr. Oswald's concerns and questions, as expressed in the above referenced Guest Comments. Although Mr. Oswald has brought up several negative issues with regards to an AA, he insists he is in favor of an AA. If Mr. Oswald truly desires to see a vast improvement in the management of Payson Airport, all he ever has to do is come to any of the TF meetings, contact any of the TF members, at any time. He is in contact with several of the members on a daily basis as it is. Instead he has chosen a public forum. While the airport users are not a closed group, they try to build consensus, to the benefit of both the airport and the Town.

Had Mr. Oswald opted to discuss his concerns with the TF, we could have assured him that all his criticisms, concerns, points, and issues have been dealt with and solutions presented to the Town. However, saying it doesn't explain it. I will go item by item and give our reasoned explanation.

His first criticism is the lack of a business plan. The Payson Airport has operated without a business plan for its total existence. An Airport Master Plan update is in its beginning stages and is funded. A business plan will be constructed in conjunction with that update. Right now, using a spreadsheet and building a Revenue vs. Expense Table, we know that the AA can perform the airport's maintenance and operations tasks with Town general Fund help. While we cannot guarantee an exact dollar savings, we do know for certain there will be an immediate $70,000 savings to the Town's Citizens.

We have a great deal more justification for the AA than "Sedona did it, so can we." We used the Sedona airport as an example because it is a successfully operating AA, not because the airports are exactly alike. We presented the facts to the Town Council, comparing the problems and financial mishandling by the present management, to what the Task Force proposed. The Council saw the wisdom in this and voted to act on it.

The "FAA funding crisis" may or may not affect the airport. But the results of the FAA proposals would be the same whether the Town or the AA was managing the airport. If the FAA proposals made law, it will take cooperative effort between the Town ad the AA to manage the airport through the tough times.

The AA is not independent of the Town, other than financially. The town owns the Airport and will own all the buildings. The Town Council will ratify all leases and nominations to the AA Board of Directors. In the example given of noise abatement procedures, the Town and the AA will work together to get FAA approval of any proposed changes to present policies. By working together, we can present a unified and stronger force to the FAA and other governmental agencies.

The TF's proposal to the Council gives the authority to hold the AA's "feet to the fire." If the AA does not meet its financial obligations, and the goals set by the FAA, the Town can cancel the lease.

The Payson Regional Airport Authority (PRAA) Board of Directors, one of the bidders for the lease, includes four active pilots who are users of the Payson Airport, and three local business people. They each bring their career expertise with them: an Architect/Planner/Designer; a retired Ford Motor Company Activity Controller; a retired large corporation manager; a retired Lease and Human Resource VP; and a Real Estate Broker, all of whom are volunteers and will have staggered term limits. I believe this will ensure the PRAA is "accountable to airport users."

The example given by the Safford Airport manager is very revealing. It glaringly indicates two large mistakes. The mistake on the Safford AA's part was in assuming fraud was acceptable. The City's mistake was in not monitoring what the AA was doing. The Payson AA is required to give the Town quarterly status reports to ensure the Town knows the airport is functioning correctly, both fiscally and operationally.

Mr. Oswald's Plan B is very appealing, as long as someone such as the Town Engineer or the Town Manager is willing to double his workload and responsibilities without any additional compensation. Also, the "Hands-on maintenance activities" are a 24/7 on-call operation. One person, the "Airport Operations Technician," cannot be expected to continuously perform such duties. His pay would have to come from the Town General Fund. This plan mirrors what has been in place for the last 5 years and has not worked.

Mr. Oswald has the right, as does any other citizen, to question what is planned for any resources of the Town. The Task Force has been open about their proposal; it has been scrutinized by the Town Staff, the Town Legal Office, the FAA and ADOT. The only reason it was delayed at the two previous Council meeting was to give FAA and ADOT the time required to make final comments. We appreciate Mr. Oswald's or any one else's concerns and we hope we have addressed them.

Like Mr. Oswald, I also suggest that the Town Council keep in mind the ramifications of its decisions. But it is much easier to look at the past and find a solution to what hasn't worked, than try to look "above and beyond" the present need. One is based upon facts, the other is based upon guesswork, and reasonable people do not want their Town run by guesses.

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