The highlight of court involved the decision to prepare to sell the Sinton Airport. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a county may only receive revenue from one airport, whereas San Patricio County currently owns the Sinton Airport as well as the McCampbell/Porter Airport, located in Ingleside.
“Commissioners Court is currently looking at the feasibility of selling the airport and concentrating on revenue in the McCampbell/Porter Airport in Ingleside,” San Patricio County Judge Terry Simpson stated.
Last year, the Sinton Airport brought in revenues at approximately $70,000 and the McCampbell/Porter Airport brought in close to half a million dollars. Revenue isn’t the only reason the commissioners court has decided to stick with the McCampbell/Porter Airport, according to Commissioner Jim Price, Precinct 4. The airport in Ingleside upscales the Sinton Airport in many other areas, including the fact that it is a newer and larger facility. Additionally, the McCampbell/Porter Airport already has a fuel system in place and consists of a higher volume of commercial and business traffic, such as large air crafts from companies including Kiewit Offshore Services.
The court is hoping to have the airport, which exceeds 100 acres, on the market in approximately six months and is fairly certain that whomever takes new ownership of the airport will be required to sign an agreement that ensures he/she will keep the airport running.
Around 24 years ago, shortly after San Patricio County took over ownership of the Sinton Airport, the county learned that the soil was contaminated with pollutants. During the time that the county did not own the airport, three crop dusting businesses were licensed by the TNRCC (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission), currently known as the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), to operate out of the Sinton Airport.
Crop dusters would go out to spray crops and, upon returning, land over a cement drainage area where the craft would be rinsed off and the remnants drained into a hole in the ground. Eventually, signs of high levels of arsenic were detected from the soil at the airport, though no actual proof was ever obtained on the initial source of the problem.
When the State of Texas appointed the county to perform the clean-up of the contaminated area, it came as a surprise, according to Judge Simpson. The county has spent an estimated $1 million annually in the remediation process. A clean-up crew has dug approximately 50 feet into the ground to remove contaminated soil and replace the holes with clean, new soil. In addition, the county has contracted services to inject the soil with iron and other chemicals which will attract the contaminated chemicals in a concentrated area and provide easier removal.
The county still has around two years to complete the clean-up and will continue to work on the project until it is finished, regardless of whether they remain the owners or not.
In addition to the discussion of the airport, the next significant item of discussion for the court included action on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015.
While discussing the budget, the court did approve the proposal of allotting a $65,000 annual salary for the hiring of a manager for both airports, as well as salaries for the maintenance crew and a part-time clerk, if needed. Commissioner Price has been voluntarily managing the McCampbell/Porter Airport for the past 12 years but stated he did not have enough time to dedicate himself fully to the operations of the facility.
The county approved an additional $200,000 for four deputies and four patrol vehicles at the Sheriff’s Department, on the condition that the City of Odem continue their contract for two deputies and two vehicles. Otherwise, the increase in staff will have to be postponed until next year.
Chief Deputy Oscar Rivera of the Sheriff’s Department announced the department’s plans to promote an investigator to the new position of Fire Marshal and requested the approval by the court to hire an investigator to fill the empty position, which was approved.
A future meeting will incorporate an agenda item to discuss new fire codes and fees in the Fire Marshal’s department, as well as the creation of an account for any incurred fees.
The court recessed around 11 a.m. Monday, and resumed their discussion of the budget at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The court approved to increase of the salaries of county employees and elected officials by five percent for 2015. The increase has been five percent, annually, for a fairly consistent 10 years, according to Judge Simpson.
Separate county departments requested additional increases in salary for certain employees, which will be decided upon on a case-to-case basis by the court.
An issue, brought to the attention of the court by County Auditor David Wendel, included a cluster of employees with longer service records who would fall into the same pay rate category as those who just started with the county due to the increase in minimum wage. Wendel proposed that the cluster be looked into further and that adjustments be made prior to Jan. 1.
“I don’t think we a can fix this today or before the budget is adopted in August, but we may be able to work on it for December,” Wendel stated.
Commissioner Price didn’t see a problem with trying to work on a solution for these employees. “We need to keep these people here to work for the county; the money is going back to the people that deserve it,” Price said.
A small change was made in the San Patricio County Department of Public Health involving fees. The court approved the increase of cost for Meningococcal Meningitis vaccinations from $73.21 per dose to $100 per dose. A fee of $1 per page for incoming faxes and $2 per page for outgoing faxes at the health department was also approved to help off-set additional costs.
“We’re providing a service that doesn’t have anything to do with the health department,” Judge Simpson commented.
Prior to adjourning, the court approved to set the tax rate at $.51, which will be advertised by the Tax Assessor-Collector’s office.
Individual budgets were approved for the commissioners precincts, with the exception of Precinct 3, because Commissioner Alma Moreno was not present on Monday or Tuesday.