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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

KDOT aviation official urges county to keep airport open

Updated: Apr 6

A Kansas Department of Transportation official from its Aviation Department urged to Linn County Commission to keep the county airport open at the commission's March 4 meeting. (Journal file photo)


By Charlene Sims, info@linncountyjournal.co


MOUND CITY – Instead of getting answers to their questions about the fate of  the county-owned airport at the March 4 Linn County Commission meeting, commissioners likely had more questions after talking with a Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) official.


Commissioners had been waiting for answers from the KDOT aviation division for months. The main questions were (1) whether they would be forced to keep the airport open and (2) if they did not keep it open, how much grant money would they have to return.


Ray Seif, the new KDOT Director of Aviation, met with the commissioners but did not bring the information commissioners had been waiting for.


He did verify that, if the airport did not remain open to the public, the county would owe KDOT for any grants they had received in the last 10 years. However, he said he had not checked into how the amount would be prorated.


Some of the grants received in the last 10 years by the county include a 2015 airport development plan for $47,000, a 2017 fuel system grant for $123,000, and a 2019 grant for solar runway edge lights for $180,000. The total of those grants is $350,000.


Seif said he would have to look over each contract to see what the reimbursement amount would be.


The KDOT official said that commissioners may feel like the airport is a burden because of the money needed for its upkeep. He said there were additional resources available from the state to help with keeping up the pavement and replacing the fuel farm.  


Seif told the commissioners that he would absolutely recommend getting the fuel farm up and running. He said the airport with fuel gives pilots a reason to come the county. Without that, he added, airports struggle.


While American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service does helicopter transports from several different locations across the county, Seif still said that this region was listed as an air ambulance desert.


Other uses of the airport are crop dusters, business usage, and flight training, he said. Discussion was held on the different type of fuel some crop dusters used and how the airport could benefit from their use by charging fuel flow fees. 


Commissioner Danny McCullough asked how the county could police the use because they do not have anyone at the airport.


“There’s a lot of issues with not having any management or personnel at the airport,” said Seif. “Obviously you have less control over what can go wrong.”


Commissioner Jim Johnson said that another issue was the taxation of the real estate. 


Seif said that was a huge issue and he understood that the county’s attorney was looking at that.


However,  Gary Thompson, the county counselor who was working on that tax issue, resigned his post and left the meeting earlier in the day.


While Seif said that he was not privy to everything that was going on, hangar-use taxation could be major hurdle. He recommended looking into a tax exemption or aeronautical-use taxation. 


He said that actual issue may be that the county is selling the lots instead of leasing lots to be built on. He recommended leaning more toward long-term ground leases.


Seif told the commissioners that there were ways to manage an airport including hiring someone to be on site or you can hiring a company and paying a part-time management fee.


He went on to explain that in a major emergency situations sometimes airports were the only access into an area. He added that they are economic drivers for the community. He said that communities that have divested themselves of their airports have stagnated or regretted it later on.


It is an absolute asset for the community, typically, and it is good for public safety, air ambulance flights, and police and more, he added.


Seif recommended the Kansas Association of Airports as a good resource for information, support and promotion of the airport.


He told the commissioners that they should look at it as a resource or asset like the next road, next school, and next library.


“I can’t sell you on your own community or own airport,” said Seif. 


He said the county could look at putting out a request for proposal for a company to  manage the airport.


Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower recommended going out for a bid for a management company. 


Johnson said he was not interested in doing that until they took care of the tax problem. At a previous meeting, Thompson was going to prepare the information and paperwork that would allow the county to apply for a tax exemption.


Johnson asked that Pleasanton city officials be brought into a commission meeting to talk over the taxation issue with them.


 




 

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