Officials in Cass City are considering leaving the Tuscola Area Airport Authority – a move that would likely mean big change for Tuscola County’s only general aviation airport.
The village board of trustees has asked Cass City attorney Jason Bitzer to explore the pros and cons of leaving the authority.
If Cass City were to leave the authority, only Caro would be left.
Steve Erickson, a trustee in the village of Cass City and executive director of the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., said during Monday’s village council meeting that means change would have to happen.
“The airport is set up as an authority, and you can’t have an authority if you only have one member,” Erickson said. “If the village of Cass City should decide that they no longer want to participate, the structure of the airport will have to be changed.”
“It’s not easy to do,” he added.
Tom Herron, a Cass City village trustee elected in November, brought the issue up at the village board’s meeting on Monday.
“I know I’ve heard this many times…about the Caro airport…why are we funding an airport? We don’t use it,” he said.
Herron said he tried to determine if Dairy Farmers of America was using the airport and determine if “maybe we should stick with it.”
“But the runways aren’t long enough for their plane,” Herron said, claiming DFA flies into airports in Huron or Sanilac counties.
Herron suggested that the Tuscola Area Airport should be owned and managed in a similar manner to those respective airports.
“Why can’t that airport be turned over to the county?” Herron said.
The airport is the only general aviation airport located in Tuscola County and is owned and operated by the Tuscola Area Airport Authority.
The authority was incorporated in 1993 and originally consisted of Caro, Cass City, Kingston, Almer Township, and Elkland Township.
Today, only Caro and Cass City are in the authority.
According to a statement in its most recent audit, the “Tuscola Area Airport Authority’s goal is to improve services to the flying public by increasing the economic development of the local communities in Tuscola County. The Authority is working toward increasing traffic into the airport and making improvement to its infrastructure as ways to reach this goal.”
There are 35 aircraft based at the airport.
Activities that take place at the airport include corporate transportation, delivery of goods, emergency service and hospital activities, business and agricultural use by local companies, flight training, aircraft maintenance and repair, and recreational uses.
Authority officials claim the airport is used by representatives of Poet Biorefining in Caro, Walbro Engine Management in Cass City and others, including UPS, Michigan State Police and the University of Michigan Hospital.
As The Advertiser was the first to report on Feb. 11, Midwest Sky Sports L.L.C. – a small aircraft manufacturer – recently opened shop in a long dormant hangar at the airport. The business employs seven, and plans to bring in more aircraft through planned events, such as fly-ins.
For the current fiscal year for the Tuscola Area Airport Authority, Caro contributed about $8,900 and Cass City, about $9,300, according to figures provided by Lynn Hayward, administrative assistant at the airport.
Each authority has two seats on the organization’s four-member board.
Caro is represented by Mayor Joe Greene and citizen Dick Pouliot. Carl Palmateer, Cass City village president, is the lone board member from Cass City. Former Cass City Village Manager Peter Cristiano previously held the fourth seat, which became vacant when he retired Jan. 30.
In response to Herron’s suggestion Cass City not be part of the authority in any capacity, Cass City Trustee Jenny Zawilinski said that Cass City “just can’t drop out” of the contract it’s in with the authority.
“I’m not a lawyer, but that came from our lawyer,” she said.
Village Trustee Mark Karwowoski said he agreed with Erickson with regard to making sure anything Cass City does, is done properly.
Karwowoski said he wants specific facts about who is using the airport, and how often.
“We need to make an informed decision,” he said. “It’s definitely something we need to look at.”
Bitzer said he has been involved in “extracting two other communities” from such authorities.
He said Cass City village council would have to pass a resolution to do so.
However, he added there are two potential issues: who would take over for the authority, and any monies Cass City might be obligated to pay per its contract. The amount was not discussed during Monday’s meeting.
“If we were to extract ourselves from the airport authority, the airport authority at that point would hand us a bill for whatever’s remaining and expect that to be paid as part of the resolution,” Bitzer said.
Erickson stressed the importance of acting on behalf of voters who put council members in office.
“If that’s the decision of the people, and the way we want to go, we just need to make sure we use the right process,” Erickson said. “The airport is very important to Tuscola County, but at the same time, we need to listen to the people who elected us, who put us here.”
Cass City resident Dick Wallace expressed frustration at village money being used to fund the airport.
“We’ve brought up before about the $7,000 and I hear you say, ‘Well we’ll talk about it’ but that’s what we’ve been hearing for the last year or so,” he said, referring to a previous amount the village paid into the authority.
“The township was also involved in that and they said, ‘This is ridiculous for us to have to pay this’ so they dropped it. There was no penalty for dropping it or anything else.
“I think what they came up with ‘Yeah, we can drop this and they’ll be upset with us, but so what?’” Wallace said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org