TUPELO – The City Council today will likely reject a $1.2 million request from Tupelo Regional Airport Authority for a capital improvement project, prompting concern that an employer based at the city-owned facility will take off.
The back-and-forth exchange has stretched into four months since the airport authority first discussed the city paying for the project to upgrade the former runway leading to space leased by Universal Asset Management, an aircraft recycling company.
“I don’t really know what to say about it,” Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton told the City Council on Monday. “We’ve talked about it and talked about it.”
After many hours of closed discussions and presentations, the city and airport authority can’t seem to find common ground.
The council responded months ago by agreeing to pay $107,000 for a targeted fix of the runway, but airport authority members asked to postpone that work, saying much more of the airport taxiway should be upgraded.
UAM’s leadership has said the upgrades are necessary to sustain heavy planes that land at the airport, which has worn and cracked pavement where some of the company’s heavy aircraft travel.
The airport authority has said the upgrades are necessary for any tenant using that part of the airport.
UAM, which employs 85, has promised to spend $29 million in salaries, benefits, supplies and other payments in the next three years if the city supports the capital project. City Council members are leery of the expense and want UAM to help foot the bill for improvements.
Shelton and council members have criticized UAM leadership for not negotiating with the city. An informal survey of council members signals a supermajority will vote against the request.
Council members Nettie Davis of Ward 4, Mike Bryan of Ward 6, Buddy Palmer of Ward 5, Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 have said they plan to vote against the request.
“Right now, I can’t support that amount of money,” Davis said. “I wish there was some sort of solution we could come up with, but that takes money.”
Davis said she worries that UAM will pull out of Tupelo if the capital plan isn’t approved, taking jobs from the city.
City attorney Ben Logan said Monday discussions of whether the city would meet the lease agreement between the airport and UAM by reverting back to the $107,000 agreement are premature.
“We’re not in a litigated posture at this point,” he said. “It’s more of a request by UAM through the airport authority.”
Josh Abramson, the airport’s executive director, said UAM hasn’t threatened to leave the airport if improvements aren’t made. However, he said if the company does leave, the airport authority will have a budget shortfall, which could lead to reductions in operations and maintenance.
“UAM hasn’t said they’re going to leave without these repairs done,” Abramson said. “I haven’t received any demands.”
UAM President and CEO Keri Wright did not respond to requests for comment Monday from the Daily Journal.