A citizens group weighing whether the Payson Regional Airport Authority (PRAA) should turn the operations of the airport back over to the town of Payson will make a recommendation by Oct. 11.
The committee is meeting weekly to discuss new revenue-generating ideas, other airport authority agreements around the state and possibly solutions with the town, reported Robert Henley, a member of the group.
So far, the group is still collecting ideas, suggestions and information.
“Three months is not going to change the decision that has to be made, but gives time to develop more information and getting town involvement,” said PRAA Secretary Jim Hunt.
The PRAA board set up the group a month ago after receiving strong opposition from pilots who want to see the board continue operations of the small airport north of town.
In the meantime, the board is handling day-to-day business, including the approval of $170,000 budget, an audit, election of officers and airport improvements.
Some of those decisions spurred criticism from fellow pilots at a board meeting Aug. 8.
Marie Fasano said it concerned her that the board changed its bylaws so board members can now serve an unlimited number of four-year terms.
With such a close-knit group, it seems unlikely anyone else will get an opportunity to serve and “it could leave the same people in charge indefinitely,” she said.
Treasurer Dick Garmon said the board was concerned about keeping directors and this arrangement may help keep people longer.
Even so, Fasano said it is “very unusual” for a board to re-elect the same board members repeatedly with no limit. This arrangement also conflicts with the lease it has with Payson.
President Jon Barber said eliminating term limits came out of talks with Payson officials. If the PRAA renews its lease with the town, it would reflect the term limit change in a new charter. With that, Barber took a motion to re-elect board directors Hunt, Gary Aukes, Denis Parish and Mike Wallace, all of which have served less than four years. The board approved all four.
If a spot ever opens on the board, all interested applications would need to submit a resume to the board. If approved, the board would send the resume to the Payson Town Council for approval, the council would then send it back to the PRAA board for final endorsement, said Beth Myers, airport supervisor.
The board makes sure any applicant has the necessary skill and background to serve on an airport board. If a person has never worked with planes, they are clearly not qualified, Myers said.
Payson gave the PRAA authority to manage the airport four years ago, but the town retains ownership of the land and facilities.
Payson saw it as a way to save money and airport users could finally run the airport how they wanted.
Since taking over, the independent PRAA has made a number of improvements, including painting the bathrooms, replacing flags and lights, improving landscaping, removing tree stumps, increasing clear signage on the taxiways and beefing up gate security.
The group has a larger, $10 million plan to increase the number of planes that use the airport by expanding the number of hangars and building a new restaurant and terminal.
However, to do that, the authority needs to raise funds and that is where the lease agreement with the town comes in. Since the town retains legal responsibility for any public funds, town officials have expressed concern that it could have to pay back funds if spent inappropriately. The town would feel more comfortable handing millions of dollars of grant money over to the PRAA board knowing it has clear oversight.
The PRAA board recently approved its first official audit to account for its use of funds and calm any fears about past spending.
Nonetheless, if the town takes control back, it could better monitor how the funds are used.
“If grant assurances are violated, the town is responsible. The town has no income, yet all the responsibility. That was the first thing that prompted the need to renegotiate the lease,” Barber said at a July 18 board meeting.
“Finances are what caused PRAA to look at its needs.”
Although the town would technically be in charge, under the proposed deal the PRAA board would remain virtually unchanged.
The current airport manager would become a town employee and the existing board would become a town commission.
For the PRAA, having the town take over would also provide benefits, mainly the ability to float a bond and borrow money needed to develop the airport and generate new revenue.
The board is confident if it builds new hangars it can fill them, but it doesn’t have the ability to borrow funds.
The board has already seen its budget shrink and just this year cut spending on runway maintenance, among other things.
Besides dissecting a new arrangement with Payson, the citizens group is looking at new ways for the airport to make money.
Henley said he is confident the group will have a recommendation within the three-month timeframe given.