HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. - A small airport in our area needs funding for improvements but some think those tax-dollars could be better spent.
The Hawkins County Airport is in the middle of an improvement project that so far has used $105,880 of county funds, but that's just a fraction of the $1.4 million granted from the FAA. Airport officials said the airport has started paying for itself.
The Hawkins County Airport is the reason Jeff Hesoun moved to the Tri-Cities. He has to fly his daughter to the hospital in Nashville several times a year, sometimes at a moment's notice.
"When she was 5-weeks-old she got a heart transplant," Hesoun said. "Now that's a life-long condition that requires a lot of medical follow-up and specialized treatment and nobody around the Tri-Cities area does that."
After 50 years in existence, the airport needs improvements to maintain FAA standards. Without being in compliance, the airport could lose any FAA funding. Airport Committee Chair Stacy Vaughan said staying up to code and building more hangars, and increasing the number of people renting hangar space and purchasing oil will generate enough revenue to help sustain the airport costs.
"Our ultimate goal with using federal and state dollars at the airport is to help offset the cost that the county is putting in the budget each year," Vaughan said.
Kerry Jackson with the Industrial Development Board said the size of the airport limits commercial use, but expansion could effectively attract business.
The improvements would cost $430,000. The county would pay $21,000, the rest is an FAA grant.
But several people we spoke to don't think tax-payer dollars should be spent. County Commissioner Mark Linkous said in a statement, " I think this would be a waste of taxpayers' money. If the majority of the people used the airport then it would be a different story. I have asked a few of the businesses if they used it an they said no or very little. I can't support his knowing that it wouldn't benefit the majority of the people of Hawkins County."
But for people living here like Hesoun, the airport is a necessity.
"If the airport didn't exist I would move elsewhere," Hesoun said.
Vaughan said he'll request the extra funds at the next county commission meeting September 28.
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