Sunday, January 15, 2017

County claims no liability for Sumner County Regional Airport (M33); votes to fund $108,000

Just minutes after telling audience members the county was not legally responsible for the Sumner County Airport, members of the county Budget Committee voted unanimously Monday, Jan. 9 for an emergency spending measure of $108,000 to assist the Airport Authority in an ongoing lawsuit at the facility.

The lawsuit stems from a 2009 imminent domain case where the Airport Authority took land abutting the airport from then -property owner J.H. Whitaker in order to extend the runway.

At the time, the property was assessed at $192,000 - the amount still in escrow, but the original appraiser has since died. Whitaker had his own reappraisal of the property done, claiming its actual worth was $495,000.

Don Drayton, chairman of the Airport Authority, said since the original appraiser has passed and cannot be called as a witness, the airport was court-ordered to have a second appraisal done at a cost of nearly $6,000. That appraisal came in at $300,000.

"Our experts say it is (valued at) $300,000," Drayton said. "Their experts say $485,000. They are not going to go lower than $300,000. It cost us $5,500 to find out it's not $192,000.

Drayton said the court date for the lawsuit has been set for November 16, and at the advice of the board's attorney, he asked the Budget Committee for the $108,000 difference between the $192,000 originally paid and the new $300,000 appraisal the authority had done.

"What we are asking for is consideration of $108,000 for this escrow account," he said.

Drayton has previously presented the matter before the county General Operations Committee earlier that evening and when it came up during the budget meeting, resident Kevin Baigert asked if the county was responsible for the airport financially.

"The airport is its own standalone entity," Budget Committee chairman Kevin Pomeroy said. "The airport is not a county liability."

But the motion for the funding was put on the floor and voted in with little discussion. The money is being earmarked through an $11,000 rainy day fund, referred to by the county as the hospital fund.

Drayton said the lawsuit was one of more than 10 problems he and the new board had inherited from the previous board; most of which have been resolved, he said. Drayton also added the airport is no longer in the red and has a positive cash flow.

Until the lawsuit is heard in November, it is not known whether the additional $108,000 will be accepted or whether the ruling for the entire $485,000 will be granted. If that were to happen, the county could be asked to contribute an additional $185,000.


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