Picente to push for private firm running airport

UTICA — Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente will make the case at a public meeting tonight to give a private company the chance to run the county airport’s fixed base operations.

A 10-year contract has been drawn up for Freeman Holdings of New York, LLC, to operate the airport at the former Griffiss Air Force base under the franchise Million Air.

After the first 10 years, there will be an option to renew for another 10 years.
The county Board of Legislators will vote on the question at its next regular meeting Wednesday, July 30.

Tonight’s meeting is at 5 p.m. in the legislative chambers in the Oneida County Office Building.

While Picente and the board’s Airport Committee Chairman George Joseph, R-Clinton, believe giving Million Air a chance would be the best thing for the county, others do not. That includes Democratic Minority Leader Michael Hennessy of Sherrill and Airport Committee Vice Chairman Frank Tallarino, D-Rome.

Joseph and Picente said the Million Air plan is the best chance the airport has of growing and becoming a force in the local economy.

Hennessy and Tallarino say the contract doesn’t sufficiently protect taxpayer money.
“The agreement they want us to sign does not protect the taxpayers of Oneida County,” Hennessy said. “It is just another move to try to salvage the airport after a number of failed attempts that have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars over the years.”

But Picente said the Million Air plan was a key step in a new direction.
“They can argue that it’s a wrong decision. I believe its not,” he said. “We have been doing things one way for a long time, and it has been costing the taxpayers money, and we can’t operate like this.”

Under the agreement, the county would get a percentage of the profits generated by Million Air at the airport.

However, the county also has to make certain improvements to the airport, such as constructing a new corporate hangar and increasing fuel storage capacity, a letter to the Board of Legislators from Picente states.

Tallarino said he doesn’t believe the county should pay to increase fuel storage. He’s also worried the county will get stuck with the bill for a system to collect chemicals used to de-ice planes during the winter.

Picente said such investments were needed if the airport was to grow.

“I’m going to show the contract and the differences and what was Whitestown and what is now Griffiss,” he said, referring to the older and smaller county airport in Whitestown. “And why the investment has to be so much larger, but also why the potential is so much larger.”

More information can be found at: Utica Observer Dispatch

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