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FAA: No solution yet PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 November 2017 12:29

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By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times




A dispute between the City of Liberal and the Federal Aviation Administration remained unresolved as of Monday, according to a representative of the FAA.

The issue began when the former softball fields at Seventh and Western streets were sold to Walmart to build a Neighborhood Market store Feb. 23, 2015.

The property was sold for $850,000 plus closing costs with the intent to use the money to build new fields.

But the old location was on land that was part of the former Liberal Army Airfield, and according to the deed, any money raised from land sold from within that parcel had to be transferred to the Airport Land Use Fund to support aviation to the City of Liberal.

But the City contended the land was no longer obligated to the FAA restrictions.

When the land sale became known to the FAA, they issued a “Notice of Inquiry” on July 9, 2015, stating, “Use of airport revenue for purposes other than the capital or operating costs of the City’s airport system may be considered unlawful revenue diversion subject to sanctions for noncompliance.”

The inquiry also stated City Manager Mark Hall’s statement to the FAA and documented evidence of the land being sold were inconsistent.

“Comments received during the Federal Register process indicated that the City sold the property to Price Properties, LLC in late 2014,” FAA Manager of the Airports Division Jim Johnson wrote to Hall. “This information is contrary to your discussion in a meeting with us on March 11, 2015. During the meeting you indicated the City’s desire to explore selling the property for development of a discount store.”

Mayor Joe Denoyer signed the deed to Walmart Feb. 23, 2015, more than two weeks before Hall met with the FAA.

Even though the City used the money from the sale to fund the softball complex on East Eighth Street, they later transferred $397,000 of the 1-cent sales tax into the Land Use Fund at the airport, claiming the amount was what the land appraised for and therefore would satisfy the FAA.

During a phone conversation between City Attorney Shirla McQueen and FAA’s Johnson Dec. 28, 2016, the FAA offered to give credit to the City for past monies spent by the city on airport needs according to McQueen in a memo dated Jan. 17, 2017, but McQueen said this could cause some issues for the city.

“For example,” McQueen said in a response to Johnson, “when the City uses non-land sale funds to make repairs or improvements to the airport, its match obligations are less than if the City had used Land Sale Funds. Thus, the City could find itself in a situation where the FAA could assert that the City had not been truthful in honoring its grant assurances.”

McQueen added that getting credit for what former commissions did prior to the current commissioners could be problematic, stating “... the City is concerned about the perception that the City was not candid in its representations to the Commission and the public.”

On Jan. 31, 2017, the City made a request for grant money from the FAA to be used to purchase snow removal equipment. But the FAA refused to provide the funds, stating in a Feb. 3, 2017 email, “If the issue is not resolved, the grant will be issued with a special condition that will restrict payment until corrective action is taken.”

Later, the City used 1-cent sales tax money out of the economic Development portion to purchase a $42,222 snow removal broom.

In late 2014, the City transferred $850,000 out of Streets Drainage and Capital Improvements portion of the 1-cent sales tax plus the $850,000 from the land sale to Walmart to construct the softball fields. The City later returned $300,000 to the SDCI fund, leaving a total of $947,000 transferred out of the 1-cent sales tax for ball field construction ($550,000) and to the Airport Land Use Fund ($397,000).

The issue continues to leave about $450,000 in question that the FAA will either give credit to the City for prior expenditures as discussed in December 2016 even though that was not discussed during the negotiations with the Commission or the public when the land was being sold, or the City will have to account for the remaining $450,000 in a way acceptable to the FAA. The property has yet to be released by the FAA.

While rumors have circulated that the issue has been resolved, that is not the case according to FAA External Communications/Public Affairs representative Elizabeth Cory

“We’ve been in contact with the City, but there is no change from our end,” she said in an email Monday afternoon. “Still in process.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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