Leyens wants airport agreement on paper before Friday meeting|[04/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Funds covering Tallulah and Madison Parish’s support of Vicksburg Tallulah Reginal Airport have come primarily from state sources – an arrangement Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens wants to see on paper when the airport’s key players meet Friday.

Terms of the agreement signed in 1983 to create the jointly owned facility are set to expire next year. It set forth that operational costs not covered by income at the facility, opened in 1993, be shared equally by Vicksburg, Warren County, Madison Parish and Tallulah.

Amounts have not been major slices of Vicksburg and Warren County’s budgets, but the Louisiana partners have lower population bases and less tax revenue.

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The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, not the local governments, has kicked in half of the facility’s $100,000 in taxpayer funding over the period, an arrangement Leyens wants included in any forthcoming deal.

&#8220I don’t just want to assume (LDOTD) will keep paying it,” Leyens said, adding some type of partnership agreement with the state transportation department will be sought as part of Friday’s meeting.

Tallulah Mayor Eddie Beckwith and Madison Parish Police Jury President Thomas J. Williams were asked to attend the talks, along with Maurice &#8220Moe” Songy, aviation program manager with LDOTD.

Beckwith said Monday he wanted &#8220to kind of get an overview” of what Tallulah’s role would be in future spending at the airport, but added using $20,000 in city funds toward those ends was not &#8220economically feasible.”

&#8220We won’t renege on our part of the bargain,” Beckwith said. &#8220But we don’t have the funds locally.”

Williams did not return calls Monday.

Songy said the state has provided the city and parish’s part of the deal, but said no other communication was provided since Vicksburg officials sent out letters to all four entities in March.

&#8220All I’ve got is the letter from them,” Songy said.

Support for VTR, about eight miles west of Vicksburg at Mound, La., has always been wavering or tentative among the various owners.

The airport is a better place to land a small aircraft than city-owned Vicksburg Municipal because of a flatter terrain, said District 1 Supervisor David McDonald.

&#8220There’s no obstacles there,” McDonald said.

However, only District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders expressed certainty about attending Friday’s meeting at City Hall annex.

Vicksburg Municipal is still part of the city’s budget, improved following a protracted court battle to keep the city from closing it in 1998.

Both airports get all or almost all of their operating costs paid through fuel sales, leases and landing fees.

Vicksburg and Warren County allocated about $50,000 combined in their respective operating budgets for 2006-07.

The current board that oversees operations there has five members, each appointed by one of the four local government entities except for one, which alternates between Warren County and Madison Parish every three years.

VTR was built at a cost of $6 million with the Federal Aviation Administration providing 90 percent of the money. Vicksburg Municipal, west of U.S. 61 South, was built in 1950. Both have one-mile runways and neither has scheduled commercial service.