County board approves ARPA earmark for Airport 6-1

Norbert Soltwedel listens to Airport Superintendent Greg Koester during the Effingham County Board meeting Monday afternoon.

EFFINGHAM – Members of the Effingham County Board Monday afternoon voted 6-1 to earmark $900,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to build a 10-bay T-hangar at Effingham County Memorial Airport.

Board member Norbert Soltwedel opposed using ARPA funds for the project.

“I have the concern we are benefiting 10 people with $900,000. I talked to some of the people in my district and they feel the money could be better used,” Soltwedel said.

He said hangar maintenance and insurance expenses should also be considered when determining the rent for T-hangar space.

Airport Superintendent Greg Koester said the minimum rental cost to start would be $250 a month per T-hangar bay.

Soltwedel felt the Airport Commission was not charging enough rent to justify the cost of maintaining the T-hangar.

“For making a hangar for $900,000 and insurance of $2,000 per building, there’s got to be money available for maintenance, not initially, but down the road and money for management of the facility,” Soltwedel said. “We are definitely subsidizing the 10 occupants of this building and to me there are better uses for this money. I think this is something that should be put off until we find out for sure we have adequate money in ARPA to cover this expense.”

Effingham County Board Chairman Jim Niemann, who is also on the Effingham County Airport Commission, addressed some of Soltwedel’s concerns.

“I think Norbert and I respectfully disagree on this,” Niemann said. “The current T-hangar was built in the ‘70s and it is suffering some structural issues.”

Niemann said the cost of construction is going up each month under the current economic conditions. He said if the ARPA money is not spent on the T-hangar, then the board would have to issue bonds that would cost taxpayers interest.

“The taxpayers would be paying the principal and the interest on the loan,” he said. “Hangars are a part of running an airport.”

Niemann said if the county used the ARPA funds it would not have to borrow money to build the T-hangar.

“The hangar will pay for itself in 30 years,” said Niemann. “So, there is a return on investment here.”

Niemann said the approval just earmarks the funds – it doesn’t allocate them. He said the next board elected in November would decide whether the fund would be allocated.

“We need to earmark the funds so they can use other federal funding,” Niemann said.

Niemann said he wanted to use the airport’s General Aviation (GA) Entitlement Funds to build a concrete apron around the new T-hangar. GA funds cannot be used to build the hangar. The Airport Commission is entitled to $150,000 of federal money each year. The money can be saved for only a certain number of years. Effingham County has more than two years of Federal GA money saved for an approved project. He said if the entitlement money isn’t used it is distributed to another airport.

“We are at a point we need to start spending it,” he said. “If we earmark the money for the hangar, it will show the Department of Transportation that we made some commitment to building the hangar then we can use the (GA) funds to create the apron.”

“The building (current T-hangar) has lived its useful life,” Airport Manager Jerry Tate said.

“So, we roughly got 50 years out of that building?” Board Vice Chairman David Campbell asked.

“We basically figured 40-45 years,” Koester replied.

Niemann said currently the Airport Commission has commitments for all 10 bays at $250 per T-hangar bay. He said in the future that rate may change and it would be up to the Airport Commission to decide if an increase in the rental rate is needed.

“We will be going from a 12-bay hangar to a 10-bay hangar,” said Niemann.

Board member Heather Mumma asked whether they would still use the old T-hangar building.

Niemann said the new hangar would be constructed first and the old T-hangar would be torn down to make room for a commercial hangar, according to the Airport Layout Plan.

“How do you justify paying $90,000 to benefit one person (one T-hangar rental)?” Soltwedel asked.

“I don’t see it benefiting one person. I see as an investment in the airport,” Niemann said. “It’s a commodity the airport needs.”

“There are a lot of businesses that fly people in to view their business,” board member Elizabeth Huston said.

Soltwedel asked if all the tenants in the T-hangar would be non-commercial aircraft.

Niemann said currently there are some commercial tenants in the T-hanga.

“We are looking at $30,000 a year of annual rent and those people also purchase fuel,” Koester said. “I conservatively set $20,000 of total fuel sales (from tenants in the T-hangars) and $3,000 of that would be considered profit. If those planes are no longer housed here, we are going to loose aviation gas sales.”

Koester said maintenance would go up over the years and so will the rent. He said it won’t be set at $250 a month forever.

“Our airport is one of the most efficiently run airports in the state. As far as the net amount of money to run that airport is minimal as compared to the rest of the state and that’s due to our farm income (from property the county owns around the airport), aviation fuel sales and GA entitlement money, which is generated from a ticket tax when you fly American Airlines or Southwest or whatever, we get a certain amount of that tax money,” said Phil Toops, who is the Effingham County Program Compliance and Oversight Monitor for Public Transportation as well as a member of the Airport Commission.

The board voted 6-1 to earmark the $900,000 of ARPA money for the T-hangar project.

Board members Elizabeth Huston, Doug McCain, Rob Arnold, Joe Thoele, Heather Mumma and David Campbell voted for the ARPA earmark while Soltwedel cast the only dissenting vote. Board member John Perry was absent.

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 618-510-9226 or 217-347-7151 ext. 300126.

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Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.