Council set to reject $1.2M for airport

Tupelo stockBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

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.

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  • cindirutledgeparker

    I have never understood the mindset of the Tupelo Airport Auth. This is Tupelo We don’t need a hub! We don’t need a longer runway because of one company. Which, by the way, makes the airport area look like a trash heap! I heard that they have not hired as many people as they said they would, anyway. Let them leave. I’m sick of the torn down planes visible from everywhere. It’s a silly waste of money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • tupelobeware

      The length of a runway is predicated on the takeoff distance required by an aircraft not landing. These hulks only land and sometimes do so causing damage like breaking threshold lights causing dangerous runway incursions. But the airport management has been very adept at hiding these dangerous occurrences. Some damage occurs every time one lands because the runway was not built to take their 200 tons of weight.

    • spongebobformayor

      Hope none of your family members work for them… I’m sure they don’t since you are so quick to push them out because of torn down planes being visible? Seriously? Grow up and check your own mindset! People’s jobs are at stake…

      • tupelobeware

        Sounds like the same rationale said when UAM left Walnut Ridge Regional. How many employees moved with UAM to Tupelo? Maybe you should read the articles when companies moved to Mexico. Is your position to save industry at taxpayer expense whatever it costs. Maybe growing up is evaluating the company you’re going to work for. It will take many times this $1.2M and years to give UAM what they need.

  • Tupelo_Guy


    1) The City of Tupelo will have to fix the runaway if UAM leaves anyway.

    2) UAM should pay half of the 1.2 million cost and let the City match.

    • tupelobeware

      1) Not true unless the area gets a real aeronautical business. If the area is developed right, it becomes eligible for AIP grants.
      2. Since this will only be the beginning of UAM’s ransom at the hands of the City, let the company move. Like those that moved here from Arkansas, the employees can move to the new site. This is a case of deciding based on the “greater good.”

  • charlie

    Remember all the dire warning from, I think, cape Girardeau?

  • tupelobeware

    What does Mr. Abramson mean by the comment that UAM leaving would lead to a budget shortfall. Actually the opposite is true, This entire deal has led to a significant drain on airport and city assets, both manpower and monetarily. If UAM goes away, only the City is left with paying the debt for the National Guard Loan. And that wouldn’t have even occurred had the Director just asked the National Guard if they had intentions of leaving the facility. Instead, he, without advanced warning, evicted them. UAM leaving would leave the airport a positive operating margin. Also, it would open up the area for AIP grant eligibility again for real aeronautical tenants. Imagine, the area could really be repaired the right way, by TAA resources and not the City taxpayers.

  • spongebobformayor

    The population of Tupelo is 35,490 (2012 statistics). Take the $1.2M requested by the Airport Authority and divide that by the total population of Tupelo and that comes out to around $33.81 per person. So to save 80 or so people from loosing their jobs is it really that big of a deal to pay $33.81 per person? I’m sure you will spend more on your cat for Christmas this year…

    • tupelobeware

      Who said that UAM is going out of business?

    • Just Curious

      Tupelo’s citizens should pay? Have you looked at the parking lot where the employees are from? Itawamba, Monroe County, Tennessee.

  • 1941641

    Seems like and excellent location for residential apartments. Bull doze the existing Airport Development and use the property for a project that pays it’s own expenses!