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Criticism of city's maintaining airport authority road

July 5, 2012

Photo by Colin Deppen City Manager Dave Greene, left, and Solicitor Tom Wagner, right, listen at Monday's meeting of the St. Marys City Council.

During Monday's meeting of the St. Marys City Council, Councilman Ned Jacobs criticized the city's maintenance of a road belonging to the St. Marys Municipal Airport Authority as a misapplication of city tax dollars.
Jacobs said he received a phone call from a resident asking why the city was performing grading of the private road around the airport, "mainly the east and south sides running parallel to the runway."
Jacobs said the city should not be obliged to use its resources to maintain the road, as in addition to income from the restaurant and gasoline, the airport authority receives funding directly from the city and is also eligible for federal grants. Jacobs said that the money and man hours used in maintaining the airport authority road could be better spent on roads elsewhere within the city.
"I don't think the city should have the obligation to use their equipment, especially when we have our own roads to take care of at this point," Jacobs said.
City Manager Dave Greene was quick to point out that the deeds to the property, which encompasses the road, are in the city's name. Greene also said that under the city's standing agreement with the airport authority, it falls on the city to maintain the road if "the airport couldn't do it," adding that the airport is currently unable to do so due to financial constraints.
Greene said that the residents relying on the road for access to their homes were guaranteed by the city that it would provide for maintenance of the road if the airport authority could not.
Greene also said if those same residents were to take legal action, as they threatened to last year in response to a lack of upkeep on the road, the city would be held liable.
Jacobs said that as the airport authority is given money from the city budget, they can hire an outside company to do the job if need be, rather than relying on the city to perform the service.
Councilman Bob Roberts said debating whose responsibility it is to maintain the road is irrelevant if forcing that expense on the airport in turn causes it to go bankrupt, leaving the city holding its debt.
"It's splitting hairs...I don't see a difference if the city goes out and runs [a] grader or puts the expense on the airport and it folds," Roberts said.
Dick Dornisch echoed that sentiment, saying the maintenance of the airport authority road by the city is part of a working relationship between the two entities. Dornisch added that while this cooperative has led to continuous debate, it comes down to the airport being unable to survive without the city's assistance.
"The airport survives because of the benevolence of the city. We've tried to hold down assistance as much as we can because if we lose the airport just like every other small town, there will never be another one," Dornisch said.
Also at Monday's meeting, a public hearing on Ordinance No. 275, Oil and Gas Operations, was presented for public hearing.
To ensure the City of St. Marys is eligible for Act 13 impact fee monies, revisions to the city's regulation and zoning ordinances previously adopted have been made to bring the city into compliance with the state's recently enacted legislation.
Zoning Officer Matt Pfeufer said the revisions to the ordinance were written according to the limits established by Act 13 of 2012.
"This ordinance makes revisions to the zoning ordinance on Act 13 of 2012 to make the city eligible for oil and gas impact fee funds. The revision was written, of course, according to the limits established by Act 13, so oil and gas wells are permitted uses in our rezoning district, with a specific setback attached to them along with specific accessories. Natural gas processing plants are permitted uses in industrial districts," Pfeufer said.

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