Tupelo mayor threatens to veto future airport funding benefiting UAM

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SHELTON

SHELTON

By Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton has publicly threatened to veto city spending for future Tupelo Regional Airport projects after the City Council agreed last week to leverage $500,000 for a matching grant.

What began last week as a change of tone between city elected leaders and airport leadership ended with Shelton questioning Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson’s timing for approaching elected leaders to request support for a grant.

“I just will not consider any more last-minute requests absent a true emergency,” Shelton said. “The taxpayers, through their elected representatives, deserve more time to carefully consider decisions that require spending city funds.”

The airport grant application was due Friday, but Abramson said the council wouldn’t have to spend any committed funds until October.

ABRAMSON

ABRAMSON

This latest kerfuffle aggravated TRA’s Board of Directors while Shelton said last-minute requests appear like a negotiation strategy, something airport officials deny. Most City Council members seemed satisfied with the request, approved by a 6-1 vote, enough to override any possible Shelton veto.

Council members offered no public discussion before voting last week to provide $500,000 toward a grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Some council members have said they see pursuing the grant as exactly what they suggested back in November after the council denied a $1.2 million capital project request.

The proposed project involves building a new taxiway after heavy planes from tenant Universal Asset Management crumbled an old runway near the company’s leased space. The private company recycles retired, large aircraft and has about 85 employees.

Council members said at the time they’d compromise on funding costs, and Abramson said he’d pursue grant funding.

TRA Board of Directors President Frank Cook sent Shelton a Jan. 31 letter explaining the grant and need for matching city funds. Abramson mentioned the grant in February to the council and explained details at a work session March 25 and 31.

Councilman Buddy Palmer of Ward 5 pressed Abramson during the last related work session if the proposed taxiway be located on property available for all tenants, if it could sustain heavy planes and whether the airport could charge UAM related usage fees. The councilman seemed satisfied hearing affirmative answers to all of his questions.

“I will definitely support that,” he said.

Shelton offered no public comments before the vote but made pointed statements a few days later.

“Every single request since I’ve been mayor has been a last-minute request that we have to approve or doom or gloom will happen,” Shelton said. “I want them to be aware that while it may have worked in the past it’s not going to work in the future.”

He also said he’d try to block future city spending projects at the airport benefiting UAM unless the company also helped fund them.

UAM officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Abramson said he plans to keep city leaders informed of airport activities through planned quarterly work sessions but wouldn’t directly respond to the Shelton’s criticisms.

“The airport is glad that the mayor didn’t veto the city council’s decision to pursue this matching grant,” he said. “The airport is the main beneficiary of this project.”

The city will learn likely in early May if the airport will receive the grant.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com

  • tupelobeware

    Someone once said, “Lying is done with words and also with
    silence.” This project is a classic “bait and switch.” After nearly a year
    using the threat of UAM leaving and the absolute need of repair (UAM has been
    using the damaged areas). Airport management now say it’s something to be “available”
    for all the tenants (but used by none), “could sustain heavy aircraft” (for a
    few years) and “could charge UAM related usage fees.” That last promise better
    be checked. If it’s a pubic “taxiway,” it is not legal to charge fees. Why
    haven’t landing fees, parking fees and justified hangar rent being charged. The
    airport has the “authority to do that.”

    Bottom line is that the airport knew what had to be done
    last November to adequately plan and prepare for this repair. Instead of true
    engineering design and plans (Engineers got burned on the runway extension
    delay so probably didn’t want to sink expenses until the money was authorized)
    and project presentation to the City, management went and talked to Council to
    determine what change in venue would meet their approval. It has nothing to do
    with whether the project is needed, necessary, a City responsibility, a TAA
    responsibility, a UAM responsibility (YES) or a combination of all three.

    Shame on Council for kicking the can down the road. It’s a
    sham that like a virus will grow out of control until checked and eliminated.
    Since the airport deems themselves as “the main beneficiary of this project,”
    then it follows that UAM is their main concern!

  • facts

    The Army Aviation Commander
    told Mr. Abramson that the old taxi ways
    and runways would not handle the traffic that would be required to accommodate
    a company like UAM. The airport board also knew of this. The FAA should not
    fund this on the grounds that all effected parities knew of the problem before
    engaging lease contracts.

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  • aaron

    if I were Shelton and yes men city council I would be looking for a real air carrier, not one that lies on a regular basis to keep money for tickets bought in advance. if terry Anderson asked for any amount the city would sign over a blank check. he cost the city $500,000 when one of the carriers took the money and ran instead of setting up shop at the airport. Anderson’s right hand man reid dawe stole fuel, tools, equipment and money from the delta safe(he was going thru a divorce at the time), from the airport and no one did anything. Anderson even knew dawe was sleeping with a married airport employee who dawe promoted, knowing it could open the city up to a lawsuit. Anderson got grant money to rebuild the airport because all those Toyota people would be flying in and equipment would be flown in on cargo jets there and that never materialized. the airport got grant money to expand the runway which hasn’t happened. that was done so fedex could land if they couldn’t get into Memphis. Anderson had the city buy the private flight centers because he wanted all the fuel sales. if uam is going to use the runway, they need to pay some of the cost of using. the car rental places in the airport has to pay rent. it’s something to see the difference between Anderson and Abramson, the city would give Anderson everything and Abramson nothing. people fly into Memphis, Jackson, Birmingham and Columbus and drive here to do business. having a real carrier would cut down on the complaints by those driving here. but again Shelton and his yes men get their way every time. cannot wait to see Shelton join his corrupt lawyer buddies in prison for all he’s doing in tupelo.