The Federal Aerospace Administration has dangled some grant money in front of local officials for some improvements at the Genesee County Airport. So with time short to accept at least one of the grants, the legislature met in emergency session Wednesday evening to vote on acceptance of the funds.
The grants -- one hasn't officially been offered yet -- move the county a few steps closer to building a new terminal at the airport.
The current terminal is probably more than 50 years old, dating back to a time of grass runways and private ownership.
Even with these grants, however, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens doesn't see a new terminal on the horizon just yet.
He suspects voters -- and hence elected legislators -- will balk at the $4 million price tag, even though construction of the terminal shouldn't cost local taxpayers a dime.
"Even if the airport can be 100-percent self-sustaining and repay the bond (from airport proceeds), the public still has a perception that times are tough, we're trying to cut taxes and you guys are going to spend $4 million on this," Hens said. "That is a very hard perception to overcome.
"I would love to see it go as soon as next year," Hens added, "but the practical side of me says it won't happen for three to four years."
There are two grants the legislature considered Wednesday.
One, for a new terminal apron, has already been offered by the feds and the county has until Sept. 9 to complete the paperwork to get it.
The second grant is for the design of a new terminal, but Hens said it hasn't officially been offered yet.
"We're in the final month of the fiscal year for the federal government and they have hinted, or wink, wink, we've got more money coming for you for the design of the terminal," Hens said.
"We don't physically have the grant offer in hand yet. But I know that within the next two weeks, based on previous experience, they're going to issue all their grants, figure out their books and say, 'OK, we've got $300,000 left, we can give $200,000 of it to Genesee County."
The grant for the terminal apron is a little more than $1 million and the state will kick in $27,000 for the project and $27,000 in county funds (from sales tax) will be used.
Hens said the current apron -- just west of the current terminal -- is 40 years old, full of potholes and cracks. A new apron will be safer and allow more space for planes to park.
The apron can also be built with a new terminal in mind, including grading and conduits for utilities.
A new terminal, if built, would be closer to West Saile Drive, which would address the chief concern of the FAA: The current terminal is positioned too close to the runway, making it unsafe.
Even so, Hens said, the FAA doesn't typically pay for construction of terminals. It's just not something they do.
So if it's going to be built, it will take a county-sponsored bond to make it happen.
A new terminal would be about the same size as the current terminal, but with a better floor plan. It could allow for food service, a lounge for pilots, a conference room, a counter for car rentals and other services.
Currently, the airport generates more than $100,000 in revenue and an improved terminal could help increase that revenue, Hens said, not to mention that a better insulated, more environmentally friendly building would save expenditures from the airport fund.
"Anything we can do to increase revenue would make it much easier to repay the bond," Hens said.
Even though there are no immediate plans to build a new terminal, legislators thought it wise to accept the $200,000 FAA grant, if offered, with the another $100,000 coming from available airport funds (which can't be transfered to the general fund anyway).
"We want to take advantage of the money if it's there," Legislator Bob Radley said. "We don't want to give back $200,000 of their money."