City looks at disbanding airport commission

Published 10:29 pm Thursday, March 3, 2011

The coming city budget could include a proposal to disband the airport commission and operate the city’s airport under the Department of Economic Development.

Assistant City Manager Patrick Roberts presented the proposal to City Council at Wednesday’s meeting. It’s part of a plan to make the airport profitable, he said.

“At no point in the last 10 years has the airport paid for itself purely in terms of revenue,” Roberts said.

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Currently, the airport is managed by a city employee, Kent Marshall, who is advised by a council-appointed commission. Marshall was present at Wednesday’s meeting, but was not invited to speak.

Airport Commission member Art Bredemeyer, a local attorney, said he didn’t know in advance that the airport would be discussed.

“I just by chance found out that they even discussed it yesterday,” he said Thursday. “I’m unaware of any member of the commission knowing about it.”

Other proposals involving the airport include studying area market prices for fuel sales, hangar rentals and other revenue-collecting services offered at the airport off Carolina Road. The Suffolk airport is known regionally for cheap gas, Roberts said. Bringing the price more in line with market rates could bring in more money.

“I do not believe any department in the city of Suffolk should operate in the red unless it is designed to do so,” Councilman Charles Brown said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Bredemeyer said the airport has been shifted around to different departments in recent years. It used to fall under the purview of Public Works. Then, it was moved to Capital Programs and Buildings.

For about the past year, the airport commission has been pushing for an authority structure to govern the airport. An authority would have the power to borrow money, which could make the airport more of an economic engine, Bredemeyer said.

“It needs to be marketed better,” he said. An authority could “work without having to be too bound by the city bureaucracy.”

Bredemeyer did acknowledge that the Economic Development department should be better aware of what’s going on at the airport.

The city’s full budget proposal will be released to the public on April 6.