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ML Council creates commission to oversee municipal airport

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | April 13, 2022 4:27 PM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to turn the Airport Advisory Board, which oversees the city’s municipal airport, into a commission that can make its own decisions.

However, as a result of the council’s vote, two current members of the advisory board will not be eligible to be appointed as commissioners because they don’t live within the city limits. State law requires airport commissioners to live within city limits, so current advisory board members Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, and now former Board President Tim Prickett will not be allowed to serve as airport commissioners.

“This is indispensable for deciding how things should run,” said Mayor Dean Hankins during a council discussion prior to the vote, adding that the new airport commissioners have the knowledge and experience to manage the city’s airport.

Advisory board members asked the city council to convert their board, which had no power to make decisions about the small municipal airport located near the intersection of Road 4 and Road L Northeast, into a governing body that could make those decisions.

As part of the ordinance establishing the airport commission, the city council approved an annual budget of $60,000 — $37,000 of which would come from revenue on hangar and space leases at the airport while the remainder would come from the city’s general budget.

The Moses Lake Municipal Airport is a separate facility from the Grant County International Airport located at 7810 Andrews St. NE.

While the original proposal provided around $200,000 annually to fund airport operations and hire a full-time airport manager, new Airport Commissioner Darrin Jackson — who is also an elected commissioner overseeing the Port of Moses Lake — said the small municipal airport has cost less than $20,000 per year to operate during the 24 years he has been both a commissioner and advisory board member. He said that is largely because volunteers have done a lot of work at the airport.

“We get lots of volunteers out there doing things we don’t charge for,” said Jackson, co-owner of the Jackson Flight Center at that municipal airport.

“The airport commission will manage the airport,” Hankins said.

The city council is looking for two volunteers willing to serve as airport commissioners. According to Jackson, preference will be given to applicants with an interest in aviation and the municipal airport.

At a meeting of what was still the airport advisory board on Friday, April 8, Dent said he has a proposal to change state law and allow people who don’t live within a city to sit on airport commissions. Dent said he’s been trying to get the state legislature to take up the measure for some time now.

“We need to be realistic about passing this bill,” he said. “There’s no guarantee a bill will move, there’s a lot of personalities, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

One of the first activities newly-appointed airport commissioners hope to do is rewrite the airport’s hangar leases to have them become more airport specific. However, the cost of working with an attorney may be more than the airport commission’s budget and reliance on donated work may bear.

“I have no idea what attorney’s fees could come to,” Jackson told council members.

“They may need to come back to the council to ask for additions to the budget,” Hankins said of the newly established airport commission.

The council also approved spending around $150,000 to purchase and install a new aircraft fueling system at the municipal airport. Funds for the new fuel system — a 12,000-gallon tank plus a pumping system and card reader to charge for fuel purchases — will be paid for by a $175,000 loan from the Washington Department of Transportation’s Community Aviation Revitalization Board, which itself will be repaid over 20 years from a tax levied on all aviation fuel sales at the airport.

Municipal Services Director David Bren said the purchase price leaves some left over from the initial loan to move and install the fuel system, which will require some electrical work and a dedicated phone line for the charge card reader.

“The city can do the site work,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.