VTR numbers to show pay by Tallulah, Madison Parish|[04/19/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 19, 2007

Figures compiled by the Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport will show Tallulah and Madison Parish have provided a fair share of support for the facility when the partnering governmental entities meet, airport officials said Wednesday.

Under the agreement signed in 1983 by Vicksburg, Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish, operational costs not covered by income from leases, fuel sales and other fees are shared equally by the four local governments’ coffers.

Accounting officials at the airport could not provide exact figures Wednesday, but said the two Louisiana partnering governments have each paid between $25,000 and $30,000 toward non-capital, day-to-day expenses and small equipment purchases.

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VTR general manager Randy Woods said federal grants from the Federal Aviation Administration now pay for 95 percent of capital improvements, such as sought-after taxiway and T-hangar improvements, with the Louisiana Department of Transportation picking up the other 5 percent.

Maurice &#8220Moe” Songy, aviation program manager with LDOTD, backed up those figures, adding the federal contribution has increased from 90 percent since 2004.

Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said this week he wanted state commitments put in writing, based on an assumption the local funds from Louisiana flowed from Baton Rouge.

That was disputed Wednesday by Tallulah City Clerk Gerald Odom, who said the city provided $29,600 in support last fiscal year, an amount more than the $20,284 he said funded VTR the previous year.

Odom attributed statements Monday by Tallulah Mayor Eddie Beckwith that it was not in Tallulah’s best interests to fund the airport to the first-term mayor being a relative newcomer to the issue.

Beckwith was director of Beckwith Golden Gate Funeral Home when elected in April 2006.

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

Warren County Administrator John Smith said the county’s share has fluctuated from year to year but has averaged $25,000, depending on fuel sales.

Madison Parish Police Jury president Thomas J. Williams said he will enter talks scheduled for Friday at Vicksburg City Hall &#8220as a one-fourth partner.”

Besides the letter sent in March by Vicksburg officials to the other three local governing entities, Williams said he knows of no specific agenda.

Williams also reinstated Madison Parish’s commitment to keeping the airport’s daily operations funded.

&#8220The state of Louisiana is not subsidizing the city of Tallulah and Madison Parish,” Williams said.

As for more regular meetings, Woods said summits involving the four entities scheduled at airport offices in the past have been sparsely attended, adding he has had &#8220zero” communication with city officials outside of the city’s appointee on the board of VTR, Benny Terrell.

Leyens did not indicate any moves to dramatically rework the current agreement were forthcoming when reached Wednesday.

VTR was completed in 1993 at a cost of $6 million, with the FAA providing 90 percent of the funding.

It was conceived as a replacement facility for Vicksburg Municipal due to an FAA stipulation that said it would fund regional facilities but not municipal facilities. Another issue was that industrial development and terrain issues prohibited expansion of Vicksburg Municipal.

Vicksburg also owns and funds Vicksburg Municipal Airport on U.S. 61 South, a facility kept open by industrial users, including LeTourneau, after they sued to block the city from closing it following a 1998 vote to do so.

An October 2002 ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the city to close the 60-year-old airport, but the city has not chosen to exercise that option or to discuss the matter at any length publicly.