Commissioners on Monday voted to let Harnett County assume the day-to-day operations of the local airport.
Commissioners faced a June 17 deadline to decide its management after terminating the county’s Fixed-Based Operator’s contract with Warren Aviation, the company that managed the Harnett County Regional Jetport since 2013. Commissioners could have rebid the FBO contract out or assume total responsibility of the jetport, which included added insurance liability.
After hearing from Jerry Milton, chairman of the jetport committee, commissioners decided to pursue the latter.
“When I say take over, it’s not really a takeover,” Milton said. “It’s just a matter of hiring someone to manage onsite. I’m for privatization because I’m for private business. But sometimes that doesn’t make the most sense, and I feel like in this case it doesn’t.”
Harnett County paid Warren Aviation $138,000 a year to run the jetport as part of its contract. Milton argued that the county still incurs most of the jetport’s annual expenses, from daily maintenance of fences, gates and landscaping to being responsible for fuel trucks. Milton told the board the county could save money by not contracting another FBO and could use the jetport to increase exposure for the area leading to added tax revenue.
“The county is already doing 90-95% of the expense of (maintaining the facility),” said Milton. “That’s what taking the airport over to me means: Getting people here, getting business out at the airport where they can create taxes. What we’re doing is becoming a bedroom community for Raleigh and Wake County, all these places that get industry. The only thing we’re selling is our water and our sewer, enabling them to get the business and we’re missing out. We’ve got to change that. We have a hidden jewel that’s out there.”
Milton said many counties similar to Harnett run local airports and have the ability to adjust and attract business. The county already initiated plans to headquarter its economic development office at a proposed new jetport terminal.
“Economic development is at the top of the list,” Assistant County Manager Coley Price said. “Those wheels are turning.”
Warren Aviation assumed a certain level of liability through its FBO contract and Commissioner Barbara McKoy questioned not only the cost, but the potential impact added risk could have on taxpayers.
“I know for the county to take over the airport, that’s a big decision for us to make because of liability,” said McKoy. “I’m concerned about the liability cost to the county about things that could happen, which Warren Aviation was absorbing when they were running the airport.”
County Attorney Chris Appel said the added liability, referred to as hangar keeper coverage, would cost approximately $10,000 a year.
“We already have insurance coverage out there since it’s our land,” Appel said. “By taking over, you add the liability obviously if we’re going to be doing the fueling ourselves.”
Commissioner Matt Nicol agreed that the jetport provides the county a new way to promote itself.
“I really feel like today is the day we’re finally getting down to running this county as a business,” Nicol said. “I see this as being a great opportunity as a driving force or at least a wheel of where we want to take this county.”
After a 3-2 vote in March to terminate the FBO with Warren Aviation, the board unanimously approved the county’s takeover of the jetport.
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2038.