County, city working to split airport subsidy

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The Lake Cumberland Regional Airport could get 80 percent of its budget request this fiscal year if both Pulaski County Fiscal Court and Somerset City Council each agree to allocate $100,000 toward airport operations.

Following last week's first county budget workshop, where a cut to the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport budget was discussed at length, Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck attended a meeting with the airport's board of directors.

That meeting appears to have thawed frozen relations between the county and airport officials, as indicated by discussion during Tuesday's second budget workshop.

Also known as the Somerset-Pulaski County Regional Airport, the 300-acre property is jointly owned by the two government entities and is operated by a board of appointed volunteers.

Years ago, the county used to earmark two percent of occupational tax revenues to the airport, which roughly amounted to $220,000. That allocation was first dropped to $140,000 and for the last three years, the county has only allocated $120,000. The proposed allocation for 2019-2020 presented on April 15 was $80,000.

According to County Treasurer Joan Isaacs, airport officials have requested $250,000. County officials, however, have balked at such figures after years of contributing --in Judge Kelley's words -- "the lion's share" of public funds without equal funding from the city.

Judge Kelley said Tuesday that Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who just took office in January, is interested in meeting the county halfway -- suggesting $100,000 from each entity with the remaining $50,000 requested possibly to come from SPEDA (the Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority).

However, any SPEDA contribution would first have to be approved by its board -- as a city contribution would also have to be approved by Somerset City Council.

Magistrates present -- Mike Strunk (District 5) and Jason Turpen (District 1) -- seemed amenable to upping the county's current proposed allocation by $20,000. Turpen said if the city is willing to step up, the court should as well. The question now is: from where will the money come.

To help meet that commitment, Judge Kelley is suggesting that work-release inmates be used for mowing the facility's grounds.

"They [the airport] have one position there that's dedicated solely to light maintenance, mowing or painting," Kelley said. "I truly believe that with the program we've got and our jailer's cooperation, we could take care of that."

The judge acknowledged that a decision to cut a salary would be tough for the airport. "These are all tough decisions," he added.

Kelley also apologized for comments made during the first workshop regarding the county's approval -- or lack thereof -- of four board appointees during his first term in office. He asserted the county had never received notifications of vacancies, though statute requires vacancies to be filled jointly by the city and county. While the appointments were made without either government's approval, the judge said Tuesday he had jumped to conclusions that board members were to blame when it turns out that airport manager Kellie Baker did not know she was supported to notify city and county officials.

"She admitted it was an oversight on her part," Judge Kelley said, adding that there are two board appointments now to be filled with recent resignation announcements from John Hicks and Delynn Gibson.

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