By Ang Gilchrist At their regularly scheduled meeting on April 10, the city council voted to create an Airport Advisory Board. The three community members appointed to the board include Mary Hansen, Russ Reichenberg, and Jim Varvel. City council member Randy Turman will also have an active roll on the board. The purpose of the board will be to collect and present information and projections to the council in regards to maintaining the current airport and hangers, looking into fund raisers, grants and other available funding.
With increasing state budget cuts, the City of Hay Springs,like many other municipalities, has been struggling with keeping a positive cash flow. Area airport authorities, including Rushville and Chadron, will be asked for their input as to what has or has not worked for them at their respective airports.
There was a public hearing held just prior to the regular council meeting, where over 35 community members and pilots were present to voice their opinions and concerns in regards to the future of the grass strip airport.
Karl Storjohann lives south between Hay Springs and Chadron and has rented a hangar at the Hay Springs airport for several years. He expressed his concern over the strong possibility of the hangar rent being raised, as the council had suggested at a previous meeting. Storjohann said he had been told that since he didn’t actually live in Hay Springs, he shouldn’t have a say in the future of the airport. He said that although he didn’t actually live in town, he did his part to support the community where he maintains his plane, presenting evidence that he had spent over $17,762.00 in the community since late 2007. He went on to say that he would seriously consider other area airport hangars if the rent was to be raised at Hay Springs. One council member said that the hangar rent was considerably lower than area hangars, however it was presented that those hangars that charge more rent also offer paved runways, fuel, and airplane maintenance/ mechanics.
The council answered that raising the rent and lease amounts was being looked at as an option and that they weren’t trying to make money off of the airport, but just trying to get closer to breaking even. According to the council, the airport is the only entity that lost money last year, saying that the pool and RV Park made money for the city. The city fiscal year ends in September and the council is looking at all options and changes that need to occur before the budgeting of the next fiscal year.
Ernie Schmidt, a pilot from Sydney, Neb., stated that the Young Eagles has used the local airport for the past two years and that the grass strip was inviting to young pilots. He also reiterated previous comments that the airport was a vital asset for emergency medical needs, stating, “There is a lot of potential at this airport.”
Local business owner and pilot, Mary Hansen, suggested to the council that they develop an Airport Authority. According to the Nebraska Legislature statute 3-502, an Airport Authority would consist of five members(residents of the city) appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council. The board would have “full and exclusive jurisdiction and control over all facilities owned or thereafter acquired by such city for the purpose of aviation operation, air navigation, and air safety operation.” Mayor Ron Housh said that the council would have to have the city attorney look into the facts and state laws regarding creating an Airport Authority.
According to councilman Turman, “We (the council) have never voted or made a motion to close the airport. We are looking on how to improve it.” He went on to say that he personally felt there was enough community support to keep the airport open and that, “At this point I don’t see the airport closing”.
The next regularly scheduled Hay Springs City Council meeting will be held May 8, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.