Butler County airport project under budget

The financial picture at the Butler County Regional Airport is improving, with officials crediting diligent oversight to saving taxpayers about $66,000 on construction of a new ramp.

The county received a $1.8 million federal grant to revamp a large concrete area that was laden with cracks and wisps of grass peeking through. The Federal Aviation Administration grant allowed the county to finish phased reconstruction of the ramp that runs along the airport terminal. The state picked up another five percent, and the county was on the hook for $103,000.

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Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said this was a reimbursement grant so all three entities and thus the taxpayers will share in the savings.

“We were able to get the project done under budget so as a result the savings goes back to our taxpayers,” Young said. “Whether it’s money that’s not drawn down from a grant that will then be used for other grants or local taxpayer money. It’s all taxpayer money.”

Butler County Development Director David Fehr — who took over airport management a couple years ago when the purchasing and assets director resigned —said hiring an engineering firm to keep constant watch over the contractor was the secret to the success of the project.

The airport has been a drain on the county and source of great consternation for the commissioners for years. General fund monies have bailed the airport out in sums of of $40,000 to $50,000 annually, up to as much as $100,000. That doesn’t include the $155,000 in annual debt payments. This year Fehr is projecting a budget surplus of $67,195 and $71,487 in the black next year.

The Butler County commissioners fired former airport manager Ron Davis, who ran Hogan Field for nearly 18 years, last year. At that time, they said they would likely hire a consultant to run the airport, which would be cheaper than Davis’ $110,310 salary and benefits.

Fehr has penciled $35,423 for a part-time airport manager — the fixed base operator Cincinnati Jet has taken on more responsibilities running the day-to-day operations — in the 2019 budget.

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Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said they might fill the position next year, but they aren’t in any hurry because the airport is running smoothly and he is satisfied with the finances for now.

“Some of the pressure is off because we don’t have the big salary that was driving us into the red every year,” Dixon said, adding Fehr has been “efficient” running the airport so revenues are up, “but we’ll continue to look for ways to increase the revenues at the airport, that is still important to our long-range plan.”

Davis sued the commissioners earlier this year wanting to get his job back and also filed a complaint with FAA. He is making allegations against the commissioners, sheriff, county administrator and others in a lawsuit seeking reinstatement to his job and its $93,710 salary.

Davis claims he was fired for questioning how airport terminal construction was paid for and about warehouse space rented by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office at the airport. He claims both issues, among others, may have violated FAA regulations.

The lawsuit has been in a holding pattern while the judge contemplates a motion to dismiss filed by the county. The FAA complaint is still under investigation.

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