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Council discusses permits at airport

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New city manager sworn in

By Pat Hibbs

After the presentation of January’s Students of the month awards and the ceremonial swearing in of Marcus Collins as the new City Manager, the Williston City Council got down to two controversial items of business.

Not for the first time, the council debated at length a policy for establishing a non-tenant business permit for those who wish to do business at the airport, but do not lease facilities there. And, not for the first time, the discussion resulted in the policy being sent back to the Airport Committee for reworking.

The policy proposal, initiated several months ago in the Airport Committee, has become a bone of contention, characterized by some as an over-reaction to a straightforward situation. Several of the lease-holders at the airport spoke at Tuesday evening’s meeting, asserting that the policy is an unnecessary impediment to their operations and Bill McGarvey said that the policy makes a mountain out of a molehill.

The current version of the policy requires that those who work at the airport on a one-time or sporadic basis, generally at the request of a lease-holder at the airport, obtain a permit in order to work within the confines of the airport. The document might take as long as three days to be granted, Permits are in effect between the time that they are granted and Sept. 30 of the applicable fiscal year. The requirements of the permit include pertinent information about the business, information on vehicles that may be used at the airport, a list of all of the people who may be working at the airport and written consent from the tenant on whose premises the work is to take place.

Specific insurance requirements have been eliminated from previous versions, and that was one of the omissions to which city attorney Norm Fugate objected in a letter to the council expressing his reservations about the permitting process.

The leaseholders maintained that a workman signing a plane’s logbook was certification that the contractor had the required licenses and insurance.

Dave Bibby, Assistant Manager at the airport, explained, for the benefit of Collins and of Marc Nussel, a new council member who had not been involved in previous discussions, that entrance at the airport gate is controlled by a keypad or a card reader for tenants, but that all other vehicles wishing to enter airport premises must be admitted by a staff member at the FBO. If there is temporarily no staff at the FBO office, the visitor must wait until he can be admitted.

FBO personnel, Bibby said, check documentation and often verify the legitimacy of the visitor, in terms of licenses, for example, on the computer. He said that a mechanism was needed to identify who, among non-tenants, was on the airport grounds at any time.

Bibby added that inspectors from the Homeland Security Department had asked on several occasions for a visitors’ log book, which the Williston FBO does not currently maintain. Collins suggested that such a system be instituted promptly.

Council president, and Airport Committee chair Debra Jones continued to insist that a simple permitting process was required, while tenants maintained that identification at the FBO and verification that the lease-holder was aware that the worker was on the premises, was enough.

John Angell and Dan Berry both spoke; each owns an unusual plane which no mechanic based at the airport is qualified to maintain, so they call specialists when the need arises. They both decried the new permitting proposal as unnecessary paperwork, and cited circumstances under which the bureaucratic requirements could render a plane useless if, for example, it encountered mechanical problems on a Friday afternoon. Jones replied that an emergency procedure could be specified for such situations.

Angell said too that he believed that the tenants should have been consulted, and should be involved, before decisions like this one are taken.

Lynn Gardner, a commercial pilot for nearly 30 years, said that she’s flown into airports all over the world and that most have straightforward procedures, which include signing in at the FBO and presenting appropriate identification. She offered her help to the Airport Committee in formulating a system for Williston.

After more of the same kind of discussion, Jones agreed to refer the matter back to the airport committee, which meets this month on Jan. 26. Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat suggested that perhaps Collins could be of some help.

In another matter that went round and round with no resolution, fire chief Lamar Stegall presented, for its first reading Ordinance 592, which is intended to proclaim the city’s right, should it choose to do so, to recover funds that are specified in most homeowner’s policies for reimbursement of the costs of responding to a fire.

He stressed that this had nothing to do with the controversial fire assessment fee, which was dropped last year after lengthy and sometimes acrimonious discussions.

Several questions arose, the most important of which concerned those homeowners who do not carry insurance. Attorney Fugate said that any fee (none is specified in the ordinance, but would be established by resolution at a future time) must be levied across the board, not just to people who have insurance.

Further, though the ordinance states that the city would bill “the insured and the insurance company,” consensus was that the homeowner should be billed and submit the information to his insurance company. Payment, according to the draft ordinance, would be “up to the maximum allotment of the insured’s insurance policy.

Councilman Nussel wondered if the city were “doubling up,” charging for a service which is covered by taxes. Stegall explained that this measure was only to recover insurance money that rightly belongs to the fire department.

Jones wondered whether the ordinance would apply outside of the city limits, where many fire calls are answered by the Williston Department. Stegall replied that it was his intention to recover insurance money for all structure fires. It was suggested, however, that the interlocal agreement with the county be reviewed to determine that possibility. In answer to Nussel’s question, Stegall said that the billing would be done in-house, probably by fire department personnel.

Councilman Steve Holcomb pointed out that the city once had such a system in place and that it netted significant revenue, even considering those claims that were not satisfied and had to be written off.

The ordinance was not approved at this, its first reading, and Stegall will work with attorney Fugate to refine it. It will be reconsidered at the Feb. 3 meeting.

Holcomb was given permission to submit to the council new hours for city park use, which he will do at a future meeting.

At the request of City Clerk Barbara Henson, who is the city’s supervisor of elections, the canvassing board was appointed. In accordance with tradition, it consists of the city manager, Marcus Collins, the police chief, Dan Davis, and the county commissioner for district 5, Danny Stevens.

Citizen Virginia McDonald announced that there was to be an inauguration party on Jan. 20, on the vacant land across from the BP station at the junction of U.S. 27 and CR 318. She asked Chief Davis for police monitoring of the event, though no trouble is expected. The event lasts from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the public is invited. McDonald assured council that there would be lots of good food.

McDonald also mentioned the Jan. 17 MLK scholarship banquet at the Middle School Cafetorium beginning at 7 p.m.

Davis received permission to continue abiding by the interlocal agreement with the Levy County Sheriff’s Office until a new agreement is hammered out.

Councilman Brooks Holloway pointed out that it was high time that the city began its search for a replacement for Clerk Henson, whose retirement is effective June 30. The search had been postponed pending the hiring of the new city manager.

Henson announced her intentions more than six months ago and said then that her successor will require an extensive training period. Collins volunteered to spearhead the effort.

The next meeting of the city council will be held on Jan. 20 beginning at 7 p.m. in the council chambers in the city hall complex. Public participation is encouraged.