WEST BRANCH — The Ogemaw County commissioners do not plan to rescind a motion to increase the county’s appropriation to the West Branch Community Airport $7,000 for a raise for the airport manager.
Commissioners discussed the issue at their monthly Committee of a Whole meeting held Dec. 19. The appropriations increase was passed 3-2 at the county’s Nov. 26, intended to be the county’s portion of a $10,000 raise.
However, the decision sparked controversy between the city of West Branch and the county when Mayor Todd Thompson revealed the county hadn’t been paying what he says is its fair share of the budget. Thompson said the county paid $8,187 less than its 70 percent in 2013, and had budgeted to pay $7,550 less in 2014, prior to the vote to increase its appropriation. Thompson said the city had been paying its 30 percent share of the requested budget from the airport each year.
But Ogemaw County clerk’s office Administrative Assistant Caren Piglowski said the county often does not pay the requested amount.
“To my knowledge, in the years I’ve been here, we have never granted the full appropriation amount,” she said. “But that’s not uncommon. They could ask for $100,000. That doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.”
Ogemaw County Clerk Gary Klacking said there is a difference to the way the city appropriates money versus the county.
“So there’s a disconnect to how you’re appropriating those amounts because the city’s always thrown in their 30 percent based on what the airport’s initial proposed budget is,” Klacking said. “The county sees it and says, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ What the old agreement says is it will be reviewed by both parties and they in turn will decide what they want to appropriate. And then the airport should adjust accordingly.”
Board of commissioners Chairman Greg Illig said anyone is going to request more money then what they were getting before.
“It’s the same thing as the animal control or anything else, if we’re giving them $16,000, they’re going to request $20,000,” he said. “We come down with a negotiated appropriation, or we just say no, we’re sticking with our same appropriation.”
Commissioner Ron Quackenbush said the airport board decided upon the $10,000 raise for the airport manager based on what other department heads in the county receive. He referenced Emergency Management Director Carol Adair, who the county recently agreed to pay $45,000 to, plus benefits. But Illig said the two jobs can’t be compared.
“I guarantee her job is a hell of a lot more stressful than his,” Illig said. “He has obligations, but he’s not totally busy all the time.”
“I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve a raise, but $10,000 is an awful lot of money in one year,” Illig added.
The Herald learned that Airport Manager Lane Taber has also been given use of a hangar at the airport to use to work on planes and make extra money. No one has said how much Taber makes from the work performed in the hangar, but Quackenbush said Taber performs winterizing and inspections, and the amount of work has gone down significantly.
“As far as the hangar issue out there, what he does out there, Kim and I discussed that with him,” Quackenbush said. “Lane discussed that with us when we met with him, and he said that over the years, the small plane repair business has continually shrunk.”
Illig said he wasn’t concerned about the hangar.
“What he makes off that hangar, I don’t care about that,” he said. “My sticking point in this whole situation is if Dwight (McIntyre, county treasurer) comes down to us and says, ‘I want to increase my budget $20,000, so we’re just supposed to automatically match that? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“No,” Quackenbush answered.
“That’s what the airport did,” Illig said. “That’s exactly what you did. You said you needed $10,000 more to pay Lane’s salary and it didn’t matter. You came up with a motion and we’re going to pay that every year now. Now the city’s saying we’re not paying our share. They want us to pay more than the $50,000. We have no say over (the airport’s) budget. We’re just supposed to match it by (70 percent). I’m not willing to do that. We don’t give that benefit to anyone else in the county.”
Illig said he thought the airport should propose a budget to the county for approval, as other departments do.
Commissioner Brenda Simmons said the agreement with the city was originally for a 50/50 split, but that changed when the city couldn’t afford a property purchase to extend the airport in 1984.
“The only reason it went to 70/30 was because of the purchase of that land,” Simmons said. “(The city) couldn’t afford to pay it. Prior to that, they could afford the 50 percent. … I’m looking at, they could afford 50 percent now.”
But Illig said he doesn’t expect the city to pay any more.
“You’re never going to get the city to pay an additional 20 percent,” he said. “There’s no advantage for them to do it. But you’ve got to talk about it. That’s the bottom line.”
The board agreed that a meeting needed to be set up to clear up the confusion over the appropriations. Simmons suggested the airport board meet with Klacking from the county, as well as West Branch City Manager Tom Youatt, to come to an agreement.
The meeting will be scheduled for sometime after Jan. 1.