Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 16, 2014

Commission slashes Mercer County Airport funding in half

BLUEFIELD — The Mercer County Airport Authority learned last week that half of its monthly funding from the Mercer County Commission has been slashed. The authority had been receiving $5,000 per month from the county, but in a letter dated Feb. 4, but not received at the Airport until Feb. 10, the authority learned it would only receive $2,500 per month, “effective immediately,” according to the letter.

“It comes at a really bad time of the year for us,” Clint Ransom, Mercer County Airport manager said. “This is a time of year when our heating bills are high, and the revenues from fuel sales are low because we don’t have a lot of fliers visiting us.”

Ransom said that Mike Vinciguerra, president of the Mercer County Commission, did not attend the authority’s most recent meeting on Jan. 31, and added that he didn’t know about the cuts until he received the letter.

“Generally, when they take things from you, you never get it back,” Ransom said.

Vinciguerra said that the commission was recently notified by the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the city of Princeton that the county courthouse’s current fire alarm system is not adequate and if they didn’t replace the system, the commission would be exposed to fines and possible closure of the county courthouse.

“A Cox Security crew is in the courthouse now installing the new system,” Vinciguerra said. “We’ve got to pay for the alarm system. Cox allowed us to make payments on it. The cost is $108,000. We paid $19,000 down, and we’re paying $9,000 a month on it.”

Vinciguerra explained that the county was paying the airport out of its Video Lottery account. “We think of it as our rainy day fund. It is the only source of money we have right now to pay for this new fire alarm system,” Vinciguerra said.

Charlie Cole, a member of the Airport Authority, said that the loss of $30,000 in funding will make it very difficult to make progress at the airport.

“We have been making some real progress in recent months,” Cole said. “The renovations are done in the bathrooms and the airport lobby, Clint (Ransom) is teaching a pilot’s class and thanks to a generous contribution from a local businessman, the flight simulator is in place for pilots to use.

“It’s discouraging,” Cole said. “We’ve got a great airport manager on board who holds a commercial pilot’s license, we’re making progress with the facility and then this happens.

“The lifeblood of the local economy is its airport,” Cole said. “We need development, but if a developer comes here and there’s no airport, they’re not going to be considering locating in this area.

“We’re already not operating the airport at a profit,” Cole said. “I don’t know why the airport has to suffer.”

Cole said that the letter didn’t say anything about the duration of the reduction of the payment, but Vinciguerra said that it could be longer than the time it will take to pay for the new fire alarm system.

“Right now, we haven’t found any other sources of funding,” Vinciguerra said. “We have to put a new roof on the west side of the courthouse. We had applied for a grant to help us with that, but we have been turned down. Things are tight right now. Real tight.”

– Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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