For more than a year, Griffing Flying Services executives have tried relocating operations from their Cleveland Road facility in Sandusky to the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport.
But concerns, primarily voiced by Erie County commissioner Bill Monaghan, have stymied the move thus far.
“The problem I have is we are spending public money on private business to help them flourish,” Monaghan said. “They’re getting a heck of a deal.” Monaghan’s leeriness stems from what he perceives to be a questionable deal among Ottawa County commissioners, regional airport officials and Griffing executives. He said they placed certain terms into a contract — terms Erie County never agreed to.
When the official agreement came before Erie County commissioners to sign, they were shocked at the stipulations. They refused to sign the agreement.
Among the issues Erie County commissioners remain concerned about:
• A 99-year lease agreement for Griffing to operate at the public airport. Many leases Erie County signs are typically year-to-year.
• A $300,000 loan proposal, in which Ottawa County commissioners want to finance a U.S. Customs office to handle international flights. Erie County officials say a multimillion-dollar Border Patrol facility nearby can help facilitate the regional airport’s quest for international flights without paying an extra penny.
• An arrangement in which airport officials originally agreed to pay Griffing, an airport tenant renting space, a percentage of some fuel-related income once a certain amount of fuel is dispensed.
"We make our money basically by selling fuel,” Monaghan said. “But we are giving Griffing a deal on fuel. Why wouldn’t we give anyone else at that airport a deal? Why wouldn’t they want that same deal?
In response to Monaghan’s question, regional airport director Stan Gebhardt said: “That’s a good point.”
Monaghan previously threatened to end Erie County’s affiliation with the airport, given these issues.
“It sounds as if I am anti-Griffing or antiairport,” Monaghan said. “I’m all about that airport continuing to rise. We have one of the best airports in the state of Ohio. I have only been against us paying a private business.”
Before any deal with Griffing is signed, Monaghan has demanded that commissioners in Erie and Ottawa counties, as well as the regional airport board, review the documents.
“We are all for this airport,” Erie County commissioner Pat Shenigo said. “It’s a great thing for our community and a great economic development tool, but we don’t want to be stupid about spending public dollars.”
Gebhardt, who has acted as the liaison among the three entities, said he’ll continue working on a deal favorable to Erie and Ottawa counties, as well as the airport board and Griffing.