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Erie, Ottawa counties ready to land airport agreement

Andy Ouriel • Oct 15, 2013 at 4:50 PM

In a recent meeting, the two sides hammered out financial details related to the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport.

Among the terms they agreed to, but haven’t officially signed:

• Contributing $30,000 a year, wherein both counties would provide funds — for a maximum of five years — specifically for airport operations.

• Spending up to $5,000 on an audit of the airport board’s finances.

• Agreeing to a fuel agreement for Griffing Flying Service.

For months, Erie County commissioners Bill Monaghan and Pat Shenigo have questioned the airport’s budget.

A recent profit-and-loss statement shows several discrepancies, highlighted by the possible overstatement of $100,000 in expenses.

When asked about the miscalculation, Ottawa County officials and airport board members had no explanation. The airport board, appointed by the commissioners, acts independently of any government organization. The board oversees finances and day-to-day operations.

The airport’s total income was $812,000 in 2012, up from $552,000 in 2011. It receives most of its operational funds from fuel sales.

The airport board and commissioners from both counties have agreed to hire an independent auditor to determine the airport’s actual annual income and expenses last year.

For more than a year, Griffing Flying Service executives have tried relocating operations from their Cleveland Road facility in Sandusky to the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport in Port Clinton. Griffing’s move is primarily driven by financial issues.

Monaghan and Shenigo, however, raised concerns that have delayed the move. Chief among them: Ottawa County officials and the airport board placed certain clauses into a contract to which Erie County commissioners never agreed.

The clauses included:

• A 99-year lease agreement for Griffing to operate at the public airport.

• A $300,000 loan for an on-site U.S. Customs building.

• A generous fuel rebate Griffing would receive for moving to Port Clinton.

Monaghan said Griffing is leasing space from the government airport, so the company shouldn’t receive fuel rebates.

Griffing executives said they’re bringing at least 15 pilots from Sandusky to Port Clinton, essentially injecting more income into the airport’s coffers.

After weeks of debate, commissioners finally agreed on a solution. Under a proposed 20-year lease, the deal calls for Griffing to invest substantial private dollars into the airport. In turn, they’d receive a discount on fuel after their pilots purchase a certain number of gallons.

In addition, Erie County taxpayers won’t fund a $300,000 U.S. Customs building at the site.

“We believe this proposal on fuel sales allows the airport board to benefit from increased business that the Griffing family will hopefully provide,” Shenigo said.

Griffing executives have yet to announce a final move date. They’ll pay about $30,000 a year for space.

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