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Baxter County Airport looks to Quorum Court for help with $26 million expansion project

The Baxter County Airport has asked members of the Baxter County Quorum Court to begin thinking about setting aside money for their share of the costs to expand the airport’s runways after receiving a promise of financial support from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The upgrade project would see the airport’s runway receive a 1000-foot extension and a 1500-foot displacement, allowing the airport to receive commercial flights again.

The cost of the expansion project will run between $24-26 million, with roughly 90% of the costs being covered by the federal government. The remaining costs will be split between the state, the county, and various grant programs.

If the Baxter County Quorum Court agrees to invest in the airport’s expansion, taxpayers can expect to be on the hook for anywhere between $1.2-1.8 million, or roughly 5% of the project’s cost.

“We are on the verge of approval for the largest airport expansion project in the history of the airport itself,” said Dr. Stephen Vester of the Baxter County Airport Commission. “It’s now time for the county to consider where your priorities are in support of a project like this. I’m doubtful that there’s any other project that’s going to give the county the return on investment that this will do for us.”

During his presentation to the Quorum Court, Vester said that the Baxter County Airport had seen an uptick in traffic over the past few years, with this July 4th weekend breaking records in the amount of traffic the airport has received since its conception.

Over the weekend, the airport saw as many as nine small jets and dozens of prop planes fly in out-of-town guests into the Twin Lakes Area.

Vester also confirmed that the airport receives between three to four phone calls daily from people requesting commercial flights in and out of Baxter County.

According to the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, the Baxter County Airport brings in around $5-9 million annually to the county.

“You know when people bring aircraft into Baxter County to stay here, you know what that typically brings,” Vester said. “They’re business people. They bring in their money, and that’s an important benefit to the community.”

The Baxter County Airport currently has 74 aircraft registered with the airport, with an additional 35 waiting for hangar space.

Vester said the airport is currently looking for ways to expand its hangar space and increase the ability to train new pilots at the airport to help with the national pilot shortage.

There are currently between 30-40 students waiting in the wings to be trained at the airport.

“Unfortunately, we only have one aircraft that’s available for this, so that’s been a very slow-moving process,” Vester said.

As he was wrapping up his presentation, Vester made another ask of the Quorum Court and requested that the county cover the cost of replacing the airport manager.

The airport’s current manager is set to leave in October and receives a salary of $29,000. Vester said a quality replacement for the position that can handle the expansion project would cost around $90,000 in annual salary.

“We need to find a replacement, and at this point, it’s not going to be somebody that just knows about applying and might be a pilot,” Vester said. “It’s going to have to be someone who is professional in nature, and as a result of that, we’re going to have to pay, and this is another thing we’re going to have to come to the court to look for, right now.”

Other Court News

In other court news, a $5,000 purchase of a new mobile 911 unit was passed on Tuesday night. The mobile unit will allow dispatchers in the county to take calls in a geofenced area during an event or emergency to prevent the county’s main 911 center from being overrun with calls.

The court also approved the appropriation of a one time State funded salary stipend of $209,918.00 to the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office and signed off on appropriating $11,582.54 in funds for Sheriff Montgomery’s 2022 budget.

The Sheriff’s Office also received $42,397.38 to fund two new sergeant positions at the county jail, $98,000 for two new vehicles, $11,000 for two AWINS radios, and $49,470 for a new generator to power its administrative office.

In fire department news, Chris Arroyo was appointed to the Henderson Volunteer Fire Department Board of Commissioners. Richard Hytinen and Sonya Nelson were appointed to the Clarkridge Volunteer Fire Department Board of Commissioners.

Martha Frazier also received a new appointment to the Baxter County Board of Equalization.

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