May 8 -- The city of Owensboro, Ky., is planning to move forward with annexing the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, a move Mayor Tom Watson said will increase city revenues and provide more room for expansion.
The push comes more than a year after a similar plan stalled over concerns about the role of the county fire department's station at the airport and the cost of staffing a city fire crew at the airport.
The Owensboro City Commission on Tuesday gave its approval to a tentative proposal through which the Daviess County Fire Department would continue to provide fire service to the airport in exchange for use of the city's two ladder firetrucks on an as-needed basis.
City Manager Bob Whitmer was given the go-ahead by the commission during its monthly work session to submit the proposal to Daviess Fiscal Court and the airport board.
Whitmer said annexing the airport would expand the possibility of expanding the city's boundaries westward. "The airport constrains us," Whitmer said. "That's an obstacle we've had problems trying to figure out."
Bringing the airport inside the city would also provide a slight increase in occupational tax revenue from the airport jobs that would pay that license fee.
Looking further down the road, Watson said he could see the hundreds of acres of property the airport owns being developed, which would bring in additional tax revenue and allow for better marketing of the airport.
"I think that's the biggest thing," Watson said. "I think the airport's one of the most under-used economic development tools in the community."
Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Whitmer said Haire seemed agreeable to the proposal when the two talked last week.
"He didn't really seem to oppose it," Whitmer said.
Airport board Chairman Robert J. Gilles said in a telephone interview that he has no problem with the city annexing the airport.
During discussions last spring, city and county officials failed to reach an agreement about fire service if the airport was annexed.
Under Federal Aviation Administration rules, an airport must have an on-site fire crew to respond to an incident, and the Daviess County Fire Department's airport station currently fills that role.
During last year's talks, the city considered annexing the airport and moving a city fire crew to take up those duties but found it to be too expensive.
"We were concerned about putting firefighters out there and taking on what would have been about a $200,000 a year cost," Whitmer said.
Also, the county was worried about fire protection in the west end, which is currently provided by the airport station.
The latest proposal would address both concerns and benefit both governments, Whitmer said.
Under the agreement, Owensboro Fire Department ladder trucks would respond when requested by the Daviess County Fire Department. Each truck would be driven and operated by a two-member city crew, Chief Ronnie Heep said.
"In talking in the past with (Daviess County) Chief (Brent) Hayden, he does not believe this is a request he would make very often," Heep said.
Likewise, the county crew at the airport station would only be needed at the airport in a limited capacity, Whitmer said.
"It saves them a lot of money," City Commissioner Candance Castlen Brake said.
Whitmer said airport manager Tim Bradshaw told him that he does not recall a fire at the airport during his tenure, and the fire crew has had to respond rarely to potential emergencies on the runway.
City Commissioner David Johnson said he believes the city and county would benefit from the agreement by giving each more resources.
"It does make our community safer because now they have access to some trucks and equipment that they didn't have," Johnson said.
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