County expected to see VTR funding fall in ’08|[08/03/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2007

Federal grants to pay for $1.8 million in taxiway and T-hangar improvements may couple with lower estimates on jet fuel sold at Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport to lower Warren County’s share of funding its daily operations.

Further, a separate $1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to pick up equipment costs on an Instrument Landing System is expected in 2008, VTR board member Dan Fordice said Thursday.

Supervisors heard from Fordice, Warren County’s appointee to the five-member authority governing the airport’s spending, as part of the beginning of its budget talks.

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Vicksburg, Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish, inked a 25-year contract in 1983 to help keep the Mound facility operating by supplementing its non-capital, day-to-day operating costs.

According to the airport’s request of supervisors for the upcoming fiscal year, the airport will operate at a loss again – but at slightly less of a deficit than last year.

Expenses are projected to outpace income by $115,234.16 in 2007-08 compared to $117,701 in 2006-07.

Airport officials are asking the county to kick in $28,808.54 in basic subsidies this year, less than the $29,500 requested last year.

Pay raises are also factored into airport expenses, 1.2 percent for linemen, 3 percent for the general manager and 4.7 percent for the secretary.

VTR is also requesting $43,625 of each of its four owners to help pay for dirt work for future hangars, a second jet fuel tank and a mini-truck.

Totaled, the $144,434 request is about $2,000 less than last year.

In April, Vicksburg officials convened a meeting of the four owners to figure out ways to shorten the city’s legal obligation to keep funding VTR. Talks ended with no change in the current arrangement, which expires in December 2008.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said Thursday the City of Vicksburg has budgeted about $20,400, toward daily operations in 2007-08.

Sales of jet and piston engine fuel, leases from general aviators using the T-hangars and landing fees have provided the airport with its income since its completion in 1993. Sale of jet fuel usually depends on how much yearly flying is done by aircraft used by the Mississippi Valley Division-Mississippi River Commission, Fordice said.

&#8220We’re not going to be selling what we thought in jet fuel,” Fordice said, pointing to figures showing about $326,288 in jet fuel sales this year, down about one-third from 2006.

Supervisors signed off on an engineering study to build a lighted parallel taxiway using FAA grant money administered by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Fordice told the board the addition of a taxiway is a vital cog in establishing the Instrument Landing System, one used to guide planes to safe landings in times of bad weather and low visibility by using technical means instead of the pilot’s sight.

While only the Army Corps and private pilots use the airport and no commercial service is expected in the near future, its current users have clamored for improvements, Fordice said.

&#8220They’re screaming for a longer runway,” he said, adding an anticipated spike in the manufacture and usage of light passenger jets designed to carry about six to 12 people at a time will increase traffic at the nation’s smaller airports like VTR.

&#8220It will be a drastic change,” Fordice said.

Federal aviation grants are paid largely by the FAA, about 95 percent, with the owners picking up 5 percent.

VTR was built for $6 million, with the FAA providing 90 percent of the funding. Its original concept was that of a replacement for Vicksburg Municipal Airport on U.S. 61 South.

Vicksburg owns and funds the older facility, as the FAA only funds regional airports and not municipal facilities. Vicksburg officials asked the FAA this year to put the municipal airport back on the funding system, only to be rebuffed.

It was saved from extinction from its industrial users when a lawsuit blocked the city from closing it following a 1998 vote to do so.

In October 2002, a ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the city to close the airport on U.S. 61 South, an option the city has chosen not to take.