The Corry-Lawrence Airport Authority receives a designated amount of Bureau of Aviation (BOA) grant funding each year to do improvement projects, and while there are funds left over from past projects that need to be used, city officials and authority members do not agree on when the funding should be used.
At Wednesday's Corry-Lawrence Airport Authority meeting, Chairman Dick Hornick went over BOA grant funds that are left over from past projects, and need to be used before they expire.
From BOA grants awarded in 2017, there is $250,000 left unused, which expires in the summer of 2021.
In 2018, the authority had $150,000 left over, which expires in 2022.
This year and 2019 each had about $150,000, which expires in 2024.
All these amounts are grants that were awarded based on a 95/5 match amount, meaning the airport needs to come up with a 5% match when the money is used.
City Manager Jason Biondi expressed his concern about the authority's ability to come up with the match money and advised that the authority wait until an evaluation is completed on the airport before a project is pursued.
The city hired an attorney with aviation law experience in November and brought all records for the airport — including past grants, contracts, bylaws and financials— to evaluate the authority's situation and be able to get legal counsel on options available to the airport.
That evaluation is incomplete and the city is waiting for those recommendations.
Authority members relayed an immediate need to pursue repair projects to keep the airport in working condition.
"We have an apron that is showing more grass than it is pavement, we have a taxiway, and these both need to be refurbished," authority board member John Gage said. "That was next on our list of things to be done if we are to maintain this as an airport."
In addition to repairs that need to be made, a concern of authority members is if the grant expires before it is used, the BOA will not award grants going forward.
"One of the issues is, if you forego this money, that puts you on a list," Hornick said. "If you forego it a second time, you're in pretty bad face with BOA and the feds."
In order to keep the bookkeeping for grant funding and distribution on track, BOA stops awarding grant money to airports that leave grant money unused multiple times, Hornick said.
Authority members are also concerned if the airport is left to deteriorate it will be in violation of BOA safety requirements and will have to close. Inspections are performed annually.
Hornick said he has been speaking to multiple people and believes that he has found money that could be used for a matching grant.
Biondi suggested that before the airport goes forward with projects that leaves them further in debt, it would be better to understand what options are available to the authority.
"It only makes sense to find out what you are signing up for," Biondi said. "What are all the options? If you don't know, how do you know what direction to head?"
Multiple authority members said they believe that the city's decision to discontinue giving the airport an annual $9,500 stipend until the financials are back on track shows that the city is trying to close the airport.
During budgeting time in December, instead of designating a stipend, Council members agreed that support for the airport would be given in loans rather than burden the taxpayers by allowing for designated funds in the budget.
The city also is taking the position that it is not fiscally responsible to give the airport a $9,500 stipend when there is already debt owed to the city's general fund, Biondi said in November.
In October, it was revealed that the airport was not operating at a sustainable rate. In December, the city loaned the airport $59,014.29 to pay debts owed to contractors and engineers for a project to make improvements to the runway during the summer.
That amount was paid back to the city in January, which left a debt of $20,000 from two loans taken in 2019, and a debt of $62,112.75 accrued over many years. Those remaining debts total $82,112.74 still owed to the city.
At the authority meeting on Wednesday, authority members voted to repay the city $20,000. Once that repayment happens, a $62,112.75 debt remains.
In order to keep the airport in good condition, Hornick said if he can attain matching funds, the airport will do a project.
Biondi recommended to wait on planning a project until matching funds are firmly established because funds don't expire until 2021.
Hornick pointed out the airport needs a repair project to keep it safe for aviation use.
"In order to stay open as an airport, we have repairs we have to make," Gage said.
Hornick recommended that Corry City Council, Biondi, and the airport authority have a meeting so the authority can find out where Council members stand concerning the future of the airport.
Biondi said he will notify Councilman Steve Drake, who attends authority meetings, and Corry Mayor Dave Mitchell of the authority's request to meet.