Macon Airport Grant May Fly Again

Macon Mayor Jack Ellis is trying to revive a $500,000-plus airport grant he declared dead four days ago.

There is some question of protocol and whether council rules will allow the defeated measure to come before the body again within 60 days, but that is expected to be ironed out before Tuesday.

Ellis wants the council on Tuesday to reconsider its Monday vote to not accept the grant.

If approved, the grant would be used to help establish another airline route at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

The measure fell one vote short of passing Monday after heavy questioning from council members about how much money the city would have to put up to get the federal money. The evening ended with Ellis calling council members who voted against the measure "irresponsible" and wagging his finger in the faces of Councilman Henry Ficklin and Councilwoman Elaine Lucas.

Ellis said Thursday he has received a second extension from the U.S. Department of Transportation, giving the city another shot at the money. He said he will have a federal administrator available via telephone Tuesday evening to answer council questions, most of which previously have dealt with $615,000 in "in-kind" contributions required of the city.

Administration officials have given various explanations of those contributions, leaving council members concerned that the cash-strapped city could get left on the hook for a substantial amount of money if it accepts the grant.

Ellis said the federal government "could care less what we do with in-kind" contributions. He said he hopes to revive the deal, which he declared dead after the council's Monday vote.

But Councilman Rick Hutto, who voted against the measure Monday, provided The Telegraph with an excerpt from the city's grant proposal. That paperwork specifically mentions a $600,000 "local cash contribution" from the city and an in-kind contribution of $15,000.

Administration officials, though, have said the U.S. DOT will allow the city to make up that $600,000 by waiving various airport fees. That incentive, plus the federal money, would be used to woo another airline to the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, or convince the current one to add another destination city.

Currently, ASA flies three inbound and three outbound flights between Macon and Atlanta daily. Ellis has said he would like to add flights to Washington, D.C.

Hutto said that if the issue does come before council, if a U.S. DOT official confirms in writing that the city can use waived fees to make up the $600,000 and if other questions are answered, he will vote for the grant.

Other opponents, though, may not be swayed. Ficklin, chairman of the council's appropriations committee, said Thursday he won't address the issue until it comes before the council Tuesday. Lucas said it's too late.

"It's not on our agenda, and we don't know anything more than we knew the other night," Lucas said.

Macon Telegraph

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