The Wythe County Board of Supervisors is looking into the possibility of withdrawing from the Smyth Wythe Airport Commission.
The board will hold a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. May 14.
Currently, the board gives about $62,000 a year to the commission, which runs Mt. Empire Airport, located on the county line with Smyth County.
The airport was founded in 1958 with an agreement between the two counties and the towns of Wytheville, Rural Retreat and Marion. The counties and towns financially support the airport’s operations. Rural Retreat eventually withdrew from the agreement.
During a recent meeting, several board members expressed concern about the airport financing, questioning if Wythe County benefited enough from the airport to justify its financial contribution.
“You can’t tell me how the majority of Wythe County citizens benefit,” said Supervisor Tim Reeves, who suggested the public hearing.
“We are subsidizing people who have an airplane. I don’t think we should be in the airport business,” added fellow Supervisor Joe Hale.
Board Chairman Danny McDaniel said he would like to hear from local businesses that use the airport.
Airport Commission Chairman Wilson L. Leonard said if the county withdraws support, the other entities may balk at having to increase their contributions to support the airport. The result will be closing down the facility.
“By sharing as they do today, the cost to each supporting entity is relatively small compared to what most other counties and towns in the state of Virginia pay to support such a facility,” he said. “Additionally, if the airport continued to operate, Wythe County would still receive all the benefits associated with the airport's community services without providing its long standing agreed upon support. It is doubtful the other entities would view this favorably and there is the possibility it could set off a domino effect of withdrawing support and result in closure of the airport. This would have a severe negative effect on future industrial and business development in this area of Virginia.”
Wilson said that most of the business people who use the airport are visiting Wythe County and Wytheville. He added that helicopters responding to emergencies in Wythe County also use the airport.
“Although it is difficult to quantify the benefits both counties and towns receive from having a modern community public use airport, also supported by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Virginia Department of Aviation, I can assure everyone that if you lose it, it will become readily apparent as to its value,” Leonard said. “The cost to get one back will be very prohibitive compared to maintaining the one we have now.”