Time for county to disband authority, take over airport

It’s time for the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority to be disbanded.

Long considered by many to be a place where rich boys play with their big-dollar toys, the airport authority just seems to be causing more and more trouble for the county, its residents, and now local business people.

For more than a decade the authority has been embroiled in a controversial runway extension. While those on the airport governing authority claim the runway is needed for economic development, we seriously doubt any company is going to decide yea or nay on a Surry County location based on a few extra hundred feet at the runway.

If the county provides the best economic deal for a firm, through taxes, financial incentives, a trained and ready workforce, infrastructure and the like, we have a hard time believing that company would turn away and cost itself thousands, maybe millions, in profit because they have to park their corporate jet in Winston-Salem instead of Surry County when the company big-wigs visit.

Given the fact we’ve had precious few announcements of new companies coming to the area in recent years, it would appear Surry County might be lacking in some of those non-runway qualities, and we suspect the money being wasted on the airport could be better spent on financial incentives, infrastructure and worker training.

The runway extension project has also wrested personal property away from local residents, in some cases forcibly taking land through the use of eminent domain.

The project likewise displaced a substation of the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department, which has turned into its own fiasco with a local business, Sowers Construction, who’s still holding an unpaid $55,000 grading bill he did for the fire department last year.

The airport authority was obligated to provide for a “build-ready” site for a new substation. The site the authority chose wasn’t adequate, so the fire department selected another spot that needed grading. Bannertown officials contracted with Sowers to do the work — the same contractor the airport authority has used for site work on the runaway extension.

Now, the airport is refusing to pay the $55,000, stating it didn’t contract for the grading, the fire department did and that it’s the fire department’s responsibility to pay. Bannertown officials have since come to the Surry County Board of Commissioners, who will probably be the ones ultimately footing the bill.

And that means taxpayers will be paying for construction work the airport authority was contractually obligated to perform.

In all fairness, the fire department should have contacted the airport authority before signing the contract with Sowers. Given that the authority was already engaged in a much larger project with Sowers, it may have been able to negotiate a lower price.

Then again, according to Sowers the airport authority has not been forthcoming with money he’s been owed in a timely fashion — big surprise, huh — so he might not have been too open for taking on more work for that organization. Given the fact that the authority is now trying to welch on its responsibility to pay for the substation relocation, it’s easy to believe Sowers Construction has had to wait for its bills.

Along the years that this runway extension has been underway, the authority has also cost the county more than $200,000 for a lawsuit that essentially amounted to rich boys squabbling with taxpayer money; the authority has squeezed out flight instructors in favor of its chosen one (rather than letting the actual market determine which flight school could survive at the airport); and even Mount Airy has walked away, refusing to fund the joint airport authority for a number of years.

The best course of action for the airport — and for all Surry County residents and taxpayers — would be for the county to disband the authority and take control of the airport itself.

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