The Covington Municipal Airport will eventually be run by an airport authority, but the city plans to make the transition slowly.
The Covington City Council discussed the future of the airport at a Thursday night work session and informally decided to begin appointing members to the authority soon.
City Manager Steve Horton said Thursday that he had been struggling with the question of how to transition control from the city to an authority.
"My biggest concern was how do you just turn all this over to someone and say ‘Here you go, it's yours.'" Horton said. "And today, not having (had) control of the operation for long, we don't what the revenue stream is and real expense stream is. Twelve months from now we'll know a lot more than we do today."
City Attorney Ed Crudup provided a solution by suggesting that the authority initially be given ownership of a small, 300-foot by 600-foot piece of land at the airport; its ownership could slowly expand over time.
The city is hoping to lease this vacant piece to Standridge Color Corp., so the company can build one or two additional hangars.
The benefit of the authority owning the land is that it could sign up to a 50-year lease with a company, while governments can only lease land for 10 years at a time. A company building a hangar would prefer the option of a longer lease so it could take out a longer loan for the building and have control over the land for longer.
In addition, Assistant City Attorney Frank Turner Jr. said a company cannot borrow against the value of a hangar, if the hangar is on land owned by the city.
Mayor Kim Carter said several people are interested in serving on the authority and have submitted resumes. The council will consider the resumes and plan to appoint members at either its Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 council meeting. Carter said she felt the authority should have a lawyer and members with expertise in banking, construction and customer service, in addition to required members with aviation experience.
The city is still accepting applications, which can be submitted via e-mail to Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or Horton at email@example.com. Members must be older than 21, have lived in Newton County for more than one year and never have been convicted of a felony.
The state legislature approved the formation of the Covington Municipal Airport Authority during the 2010 session, but the city delayed appointing members because the future of the airport was unclear. The city terminated its contract with airport manager Dixie Jet in September and took over operation of the airport in December.
The authority will be composed of seven members, at least two of must have aviation experience. Four members will serve 4-year terms and three members will be elected to 3-year terms to create staggered appointments.
The authority would be independent from the city and be tasked with developing the airport and surrounding land. The authority will have similar rights to any private corporation, including the ability to purchase or lease land and other property, enter into contracts and borrow and loan money. Once the authority is created, the city will no longer have control over it, outside of appointing new members.
In related news, the city reiterated its plans to pursue a new terminal building and headquarters at the airport's southeastern end, near Nisshinbo.