Tensions run high at meeting about airport funding

LEWISTON, ID - Tensions ran high during a joint meeting between the Lewiston City Council, Nez Perce County Commissioners and the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport Authority Board.

It's a black and white issue for Lewiston City Manager Jim Bennett, who addressed an ongoing problem that has been deemed by some to be a gray line of ambiguity between the city, Nez Perce County and the airport authority board. The three boards fired back at one another for nearly two hours during Monday night's meeting that Bennett said was scheduled to finalize a process of formalizing financial contributions between the boards for airport operations.

"I sense that there's a "we/they" mentality and I'm not comfortable with that because it needs to be an "us" mentality," said Airport Authority Board Chairman William McCann Jr. "You've asked us to manage the airport for $1,500 a month. We've done the best that we know how. We have not ever come back and asked for more funds at the end of the year and have had small surpluses each of the years that we've been in existence."

Whether or not the airport can operate without the financial assistance from the city, which has supported its airport for 65 years and now expects the airport to pay for police and fire services, was the center of Monday night's disagreement between the city and the airport authority board.

"At this point, what we need to do is see some kind of a time line or some reasonable expectation of when the airport might attain self efficiency and to what extent," said Bennett.

"I don't see, unless it's the intention to stifle the airport, of us never not receiving money from the city and county to operate your assets," said McCann.

The city's impression that Federal Aviation Administration grant money could be used to help build a new fire station at the airport was also an unrealistic reality for the city after the airport authority board informed Bennett that the FFA decides how and what the money is spent on.

"This is a huge thing and I don't think anybody is prepared to discuss this to the detail that it needs to be," said McCann.

In the end, the three boards agreed that a sub committee of elected officials and staff would meet to discuss the issues at hand before bringing them back to a larger group.

The first subcommittee is tentatively scheduled for sometime in mid-December.