Payson Appoints New Airport Commission

Council agrees to take back airport, hire coordinator, revoke lease with independent group

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The Payson Town Council Tuesday voted unanimously to revoke its lease with the Payson Regional Airport Authority (PRAA), appoint a new airport commission and hire a new airport coordinator.

The special meeting set in motion the town’s resumption of control over the airport, after a roughly five-year experiment in relying on airport users to operate the facility.

Several airport users made a last-ditch appeal to convince the town to make one more effort to iron out the financial problems that have beset the relationship with the PRAA.

Jim Garner said the takeover will most certainly cost the town money.

“I ask you to go back to the PRAA with a list of things to change and not cost the town

money it can’t afford.”

However, Councilor Michael Hughes said that resuming control of the airport will cost the town very little additional money, since Payson already spends $70,000 annually to lease three acres it doesn’t actually need — money that will now be used for airport operations.

The council approved the hiring of the PRAA’s airport supervisor Beth Myers as the town’s new airport coordinator, at a salary of about $30,000 annually. That compares to the $75,000 the town paid its airport manager before turning the facility over to the voluntary PRAA in 2007.

In addition, the council approved a resolution to appoint new members of the advisory airport commission, which includes many members of the existing PRAA board. The commissioners will take office on Feb. 1, 2012 and include Jon Barber, Jim Hunt, Robert Henley, Bill Day, Dick Garmon, Dan Nyhus and Raymond Law.

The council balked at only one item in the set of interlocking agreements worked out between town staff and the PRAA. That provision would have waived a town rule against serving on more than one town board or commission to allow Barber to serve on the new airport commission although he’s already on the town’s building advisory board.

Barber, who was chairman of the PRAA, said after the meeting he hasn’t decided on which advisory group he wants to serve, but he has until February to decide.

Garner said he hoped the council would streamline procedures and make sure that someone with deep knowledge of airports and the needs of pilots ends up running the facility.

When the town operated the airport previously, “it just took so long to get anything accomplished,” said Garner. “That’s the problem we were having before.”

Robert Henley suggested the council consider hiring an independent contractor with knowledge of airport operations to manage the airport. One of the new commission members, Henley also played a leading role in a study by a group of airport users that recommended against the town takeover. “Prior to the town hiring its own airport manager, it relied on a private contractor — and that seemed to work pretty well. You might consider doing that again.”

The council voted unanimously in favor of an interlocking sequence of resolutions, once Town Attorney Tim Wright assured them that they could continue to make changes if problems emerge.

The council also essentially adopted a separate set of rules and fees the PRAA had adopted when it took over. Wright said that the newly appointed advisory airport commission will now have to review both sets of rules and recommend changes if it finds conflicts.

“We wanted to have rules and fees in place” at the moment of the takeover in February, said Wright. “It is very possible if we find glaring conflicts we’ll have to come back to you and address that.”

Hughes, after the meeting, said many of the people who opposed the takeover remember past problems.

However, he said, “We’ve tried to structure this in such a way we won’t make the mistakes of the past. We need to give the airport users as much access and input as possible. The town has grown up and is much more aware of the value of that airport than anyone was 10 years ago.”

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