Zephyrhills scrambles to save grants for airport

Published May 31, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - The city's airport found itself in an interesting situation this week, about to lose $200, 000 in grant money.

That prompted an emergency meeting Wednesday night to reallocate some funds.

"It was use it or lose it, " said City Manager Steve Spina, adding that the airport authority had until Friday to use some Florida Department of Transportation grant money before it expired.

An airport agreement for new security fencing includes a project budget of $200, 000, with the DOT contributing up to $160, 000. An agreement for vehicle signage and parking improvements includes a budget of $40, 000, with the DOT contributing up to $32, 000.

"There were some discrepancies that needed to be cleared up, " said Trina Sweet, who has managed the airport for about a year and didn't realize until she was notified by the DOT recently that the airport might lose the grants, which were awarded before her tenure started.

The usual City Council meeting Monday was canceled because of the Memorial Day holiday, which left city officials scrambling to get approval for the allocation. The airport authority voted for the change earlier in the day. The City Council voted Wednesday night to free up the money.

By accepting these two grants, it frees up additional money for other uses, including the potential to build 67 new T-hangars that the airport hopes will generate income.

"It's new money, " said Mark Kistler of LPA Group, a planning and engineering firm the airport works with.

For years the city has been trying to get funding to build new T-hangar units at the airport, while it holds onto a waiting list of about 175 prospective tenants.

"By using a different grant specifier, it allows the airport to use the money in the existing grant for other uses, specifically the T-hangars, which will generate income for the airport, " Kistler said.

The DOT's grants include a five-year work plan. "You're kind of locked into a five-year work program, " Sweet said. "So we're kind of stuck with what we have and trying to make the best of it."