Payson Council To Vote On Taking Over The Airport

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The Payson Town Council on Thursday will consider a plan to resume running the Payson Regional Airport.

The proposed agreement would return the airport to the town in February and require the council to set up an advisory airport commission and hire a new town employee to manage the airport.

The move comes after the existing, volunteer Payson Regional Airport Authority board (PRAA) set aside the objections of many pilots and asked the town to step back in to run the airport.

Town Attorney Tim Wright in a memo to the council said 2010 discussions about changes in the lease agreement led eventually to the PRAA’s request that the town take the airport back.

“Both PRAA and the town now believe that a transfer of daily managerial/operational control to the town is best for the airport.”

The town council has scheduled a special meeting next week to appoint a new airport commission, which could consist of the members of the current Airport Authority board.

The resolutions before the council during its regular Thursday night meeting that starts at 5:30 at Town Hall would set the 45-day process in motion.

Beset by complaints of airport users, Payson in 2007 leased the airport to the independent volunteer board, saving at least $60,000 in the process. However, the town retained ownership of the airport and remained legally responsible for the federal grants that have provided for most of the improvements.

Some airport users worried that a return to town management would result in sharply higher administrative costs, driving up fees and hangar rentals. A group of pilots and other users studied alternatives for three months and recommended several ways to avoid the takeover.

The group posted its recommendations at: http://PAN post.homestead.com.

However, the Airport Authority dismissed those suggestions and voted unanimously to ask the town to take over management.

Wright’s memo cited several reasons for the change.

He said a legal opinion suggesting that the Airport Authority would have to comply with laws requiring public agencies to go through open processes in meetings, contracts, bids, records, conflicts of interest and gifts, would wipe out many of the savings realized when the Authority took over.

In addition, the town can more easily borrow money and obtain grants to improve the airport. The town and the Airport Authority more than a year ago agreed on a $10 million, five-year master plan that would accommodate a 50-percent increase in landings and provide a terminal and new restaurant facilities.

Currently, the airport has about 40,000 takeoffs and landings annually and pumps an estimated $20 million annually into the local economy, according to an Arizona Department of Transportation study. It serves as home base for about 100 private planes.

In addition, Wright said the Airport Authority would face a financial crisis in 2019 when the town’s $75,000 annual lease for a vehicle maintenance yard expires. The lease and maintenance yard came bundled with an airport grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, but expires in seven years.

On Thursday, the council will vote on whether to accept Wright’s recommendations. If the council agrees, it would meet the following Tuesday to appoint a new airport commission, approve a staff position for the airport coordinator, approve a schedule of airport fees and charges and review the capital improvement plan for the airport.

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