By Van Mitchell
Special to The Sun
The City of Guthrie and City of Edmond city councils had a special joint meeting Friday at the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport to discuss the airport partnership between the two cities and GERA’s proposal to move from an airport board to an airport board trust authority.
GERA board member Richard Geib of Edmond welcomed both councils and said the partnership between the two cities has enabled GERA to grow.
“We are extremely proud of where this airport is today,” Geib said. “This is a huge asset for both cities and is an asset for north-central Oklahoma. We have a lot of reasons to be proud.”
Edmond City Manager Larry Stevens gave a brief outline of the history of the partnership. He said the City of Guthrie approached Edmond about becoming partners back in 2004. He said they signed an original five-year agreement and in 2009 the cities approved a second five-year agreement.
“The partnership made a lot of sense for us,” Stevens said. “We are very pleased this partnership came about.”
Stevens said the operational costs of GERA are split evenly between both cities and that the City of Edmond and the Edmond Economic Development Authority has provided up-front financial backing or loans to help with GERA infrastructure including water and sewer installation, which GERA pays back. He added in 2012 the City of Edmond donated a used half-ton pickup to GERA.
Stevens said GERA’s proposed operational budget for 2014 roughly $200,000.
Guthrie City Manager Sereniah Breland told the councils that GERA currently operates in debt.
“We are sitting at $160,000 a year in the red split between Guthrie and Edmond,” Breland said.
Geib told the councils the idea of creating a trust authority is designed to help with the ongoing airport growth.
He said about 70 percent of the airports in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Southwest region are operated as a trust authority.
“We have tried to promote the trust idea the past couple of years and we are back at the table again,” Geib said. “We see the trust as an opportunity to specialize in the marketing and sales and the administration of the airport. We are moving into an area we need to be and that is a jet-ready airport.”
Geib said GERA is currently a Class B (airspace) airport and he wants to see the airport became a Class C airport. He said that title change would allow GERA to handle larger corporate aircraft.
He said such a change would require an infusion of infrastructure work including a new airport terminal and longer runways and taxiways.
“This is a different type of client,” Geib said of the higher-level aircraft. “This is a guy that requires amenities. They like their fancy things.”
The trust authority idea fielded a number of questions and concerns from the meeting attendees.
GERA board member Joe Underwood, of Guthrie, said he doesn’t see the need for an airport trust. He said GERA has grown too big and too fast to meet what the actual business market is for airports.
“We have artificially grown this airport and we have created a monster that we can’t feed now,” Underwood said. “I don’t see the advantage of a trust. We still have to go back to the city councils with hat in hand. There is also a $3,000 a year audit required if there is a trust.”
Edmond Mayor Charles Lamb asked how much it would cost to make GERA jet-ready.
GERA manager Justin Heid said such a venture isn’t unfeasible but added it isn’t cheap.
“I have had conversations with our airport engineer and it was estimated it would take about $10 million in capital improvements to reach that next level,” Heid said.
Guthrie City Councilman John Wood also questioned the need for having a trust authority.
“I don’t see a real advantage between having a board or a trust set up,” Wood said.
Geib said he understood the concerns about the trust but added he firmly believed making a change was the right thing to do.
“What we are doing here is the right thing,” Geib said. “We need to get there and if we don’t get there we won’t continue to grow.”
GERA board president Lamar Wade, of Guthrie, said he favored the trust plan but he wasn’t sure there was enough support for it now.
“It’s a matter of us going back to a 1970 airport or move forward to a 2013 airport,” Wade said. “I just don’t know whether it’s going to happen.”