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Town sets conditions on airport proposal

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — The Twin County Regional Airport Commission received another vote in favor of restructuring on Oct. 9 — but may have a fight left with Independence.

Town council members discussed a plan to give up Independence's seat on the commission only if members from Galax, Carroll and Grayson give up theirs and new members are appointed.

Things went more smoothly at the Grayson Board of Supervisors' meeting, where members took action on the pending amendment to the commission's charter and supported the change to eliminate the towns of Fries, Hillsville and Independence as voting members.

Hillsville Town Council, Galax City Council and the Carroll County Supervisors have already passed a resolution supporting the change, while the towns of Fries and Independence have yet to act.

Supervisor Larry Bartlett represents Grayson on the commission and noted that he has spoken with Fries Mayor Mike Spears and he appeared to be in agreement to sign the request.

Earlier in the week, during the Fries Town Council meeting, members tabled a decision until after the Grayson Supervisors took action.

Fries Town Council Member Frankie Fortner noted during the meeting Oct. 7 that it appeared the towns were being removed because they were not paying dues — yet still had the right to vote.

“The three towns could still be overruled by the three larger members,” Fortner said. “With Grayson and Carroll, each have one vote and the City of Galax having two, that still gives them four votes over three.”

Fortner worried that if the town simply voted because they were not interested in maintaining their membership that it would effect the Town of Independence — which is fighting to keep their vote.

“I don't want our decision to automatically knock them out,” he said.

Bartlett noted during the supervisors meeting that, although it looked like Fries and Independence would lose their representation, it was quite the opposite.

“They will have better representation if this change goes through,” Bartlett said. “Otherwise, I would not be for this.”

Supervisor Joe Vaughan added that he felt the board should wait until Fries and Independence have a chance to take action.

“I would like to see what [Independence] has to say,” said Supervisor Chris Morton, who represents the county district that includes the town.

Supervisors' Chairman Mike Maynard understood the board wanting to wait. However, he said that according to his conversations with Del. Bill Carrico (R-Fries), time was a factor.

“Del. Carrico needs to have this resolution by November 1,” he said, in order to have it in to the General Assembly by Dec. 1.”

“I feel that [the two towns] are waiting on us,” said Bartlett.

Maynard added that while it was important to take input from the two towns in Grayson, the board needed to look at it from its own standpoint.

“Do we believe this structure makes better sense?” he asked. “That is the way we need to look at it.”

Bartlett motioned to approve the resolution requesting the change; it was seconded by Supervisor Doug Carrico.

The motion passed 3-1 with the dissenting vote coming from Vaughan and Morton abstaining from voting.

The final decision must be voted on in the General Assembly. Plans are to have Del. Carrico introduce the bill by December 1.

Independence Town Council had not met prior to the board of supervisors' meeting, but did meet last Tuesday night. Although they have fought the change since the first mention, council members may have found a solution.

At the meeting last Tuesday, Mayor Butch Reeves said he and Vice Mayor Tom Maxwell had met with Del. Carrico regarding the opposition.

"Bill is really stressed," said Reeves. "He would like to see some resolution between Independence and the Twin County Airport Commission."

Reeves noted that Carrico hoped to have an agreement reached prior to Nov. 1.

"He had a possible solution," Reeves continued. "His suggestion was that if the town gave up our seat... that we would request that all current members give up their seat and a new board be formed."

Reeves said Carrico was optimistic that the solution would be acceptable for both parties and that the commission may consider the request.

The other solution for the town — if it wants to retain its seat and voting rights — is to have the commission spread the required amount of annual contributions over each locality and require the town to pay the bill once a year.

The amount Independence is looking at is $10-$13,000 a year.

"We'd have no choice but to pay it if this thing goes through," said Reeves. "I also feel that Mr. Carrico has a good feel for the relationship we've had with the airport."

Maxwell agreed, saying Carrico understood why questions were asked and why the town had expressed concern over losing voting rights.

"I thinks its a win-win for the town," Maxwell said of the proposed change. "We lose our vote, but it will be equal with Grayson having two, Carroll having two and two coming from Galax."

Maxwell added that it needed to be in the town's resolution that, although Independence is willing to give up its seat, no current members can serve for a certain period of time.

"There is too much conflict of interest down there," he said.

Council Member Jason Cassell had no problem with the resolution. "I'm fine with it. We should have washed our hands of it a long time ago."

His only question was how to determine a set time on how long a person could not serve.

"Those with a conflict of interest should never be allowed," said Maxwell.

Council opted to have Town Attorney Roger Brooks draft a resolution approving the change — pending the agreement that all current members would resign from their positions and a new board be created.

A special meeting will be held later this month to vote on the resolution.

If approved, the change will eliminate the current seven-member charter and leave only the three “big members.”

Each locality — the counties of Grayson and Carroll and the City of Galax — would have two representatives on the board.

The change was recommended after a study showed that during the last five years, the three bigger localities had contributed 93 percent of the total money, while Fries and Independence contributed zero dollars and Hillsville 7 percent.

Interim Airport Manager Tim Brown was sent to each locality asking for approval of the requested change and noted that the two levels of appropriation were clear, but voting rights were equal across the board.

“Obviously there are some built-in equalities there,” he said.

The main concern was that the commission typically uses grant money to fund various projects at the airport, each of which requires a 20-year agreement to maintain the airport.

Brown said the 20 more years of financial support were being voted on by members who were not contributing the money.

Fortner disagreed with that statement, noting that the three localities still had four votes to the small towns' three and could override anything if they disagreed.