Monroe Co. commissioners discuss future of their airport

10:17 PM, Apr 2, 2013   |    comments
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Tuesday evening, Monroe County commissioners talked about the future of their airport, which is now without an operator for the first time in 20 years.

At a special workshop, commissioners learned more about a resolution that could put the airport's operation under county control for the remainder of the fiscal year. That comes after the county did not renew its contract with its former operator.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners learned how much it could cost to run the airport.

"The question is going to be whether that new management is going to be representative of the county itself directly or the identification of a new fixed based operator to come in and perform those functions and provide some measure of remuneration to the county for doing that," said Attorney Jerome Melson.

The Monroe County Commission will hold a special meeting next Tuesday. Commissioners could vote on the future of the airport at that meeting. It's scheduled for seven in the courthouse and is open to the public. 

Previous story

Pilots can still fly in and out of the Monroe County Airport, but for the first time in 20 years they won't find any gas to refuel or a mechanic to fix their problems.

The man who held the job as airport operator for two decades blames small-town politics for the problem.

Larry Hamilton was the man responsible for making the airport run.

He was a flight instructor and plane mechanic. He also rented the hangers, maintained the public spaces, and ensured there was fuel in the tanks.

But he says his relationship with the Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates was often strained.

"I couldn't do anything to please him," said Hamilton.

Then Hamilton acknowledges he missed a deadline. His contract as airport manager was set to expire and he needed to send a letter expressing his intent to renew the lease.

"It was an oversight on my part and that gave them an excuse to oust me," said Hamilton.

10News contacted Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates office for an interview on Monday and again on Tuesday. We were told his schedule was booked and referred to the county attorney.

The attorney says after Hamilton missed the deadline Yates recommended to county commissioners that they not renew the agreement.

The attorney says there were other issues with Hamilton over the years. For example, he says the airport operator refused the county access to inspect the books.

Hamilton says that's not true. He says he encouraged an independent audit.

The mayor prepared a proposal to replace Hamilton and gave it to county commissioners but pulled it before the meeting.

The attorney says he wanted to give them more time to review before discussing.

It proposed spending about $79,000 to keep the airport maintained through the end of the fiscal year, in July.

So what did Hamilton charge? Nothing, he says.

"In fact I paid the county," said Hamilton.

He maintains he put $20,000 a year in the county's pocket for the privilege of running his private charter business out of the airport and for their share of hanger rental fees.

"I'm going to miss it. That's been my life for nearly 20 years," said Hamilton.

The airport commission plans to meet tonight at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the airport's future.

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