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Pine Bluff airport chief seeks $13,455 to finish repairs from April storm damage

by Dale Ellis | July 22, 2020 at 3:34 a.m.

The Easter Sunday storms that affected much of south Arkansas dealt a heavy blow to Pine Bluff Municipal Airport, damaging two hangars, toppling trees, and destroying the utility poles, electric lines, and transformers that supplied electricity to the facility.

Most of the damage has been repaired.

But Doug Hale, the airport manager, told members of the City Council Traffic and Aviation Committee on Tuesday that he still needs $13,455 to complete the job.

Hale told the committee members, Chairwoman Joni Alexander, Win Trafford and Donald Hatchett, that the storms did more than $154,000 in damage to two hangars but the city did not disburse the full insurance payment to the airport.

Hale said that hangars 8 and 9, were heavily damaged in the April 12 storms. He said the Hangar 8's roof was damaged, window panes were blown out, and a roof drain was damaged. He said that several skylights were blown out in Hangar 9. The south hangar door enclosures were destroyed on both hangars, he said. The total cost of repairs was $154, 455, Hale said. He said that the Arkansas Municipal League, which insured the buildings, sent the city an insurance settlement of $160,589.

However, Hale said the city paid all but about $13,500 toward the repairs, which covered everything except the hangar door enclosures. He said he still has about $13,500 of the insurance money left, which is about half the amount needed to complete the enclosure repairs.

"I did request, because we were the only department with damages; I requested the finance director, if they would, to forward us the money that the city received," Hale said. "He declined my request and in my review of the storm damages, I noted a couple of things that they missed and I went back to him again and asked him if he would forward the entire amount as it would be sufficient to cover all the damages."

Hale told the committee that the city finance director, Steve Miller, instructed him to request additional funds from the Arkansas Municipal League.

He said he made that request but, during the review it was discovered that when the Hangar 8 roof was peeled back by the wind, an older roof underneath was revealed. Hale said that the insurer said it had paid to have that roof removed after hail damage in 2018.

"They ended up tying this event to the previous hail event from a couple of year ago, and then turned around and said the city owed them $40,000 give or take," Hale said. "It just opened up a big can of worms. If he had given us the money to begin with it would have paid for it altogether but that was not the case, so we're about $13,455 short of making the repairs to our facility."

Hale said he stated that to Miller in an email and was told that the money the city had paid out was all that was allotted for the repairs and to get additional funding he would have to request a budget adjustment from the City Council.

"Obviously, to get a budget adjustment, it must be addressed with this committee first," Hale said.

"Where are you wanting that money to come from?" asked Trafford. "Out of reserve funds, from within your department, or what?"

Hale said he didn't know where the money might come from but said the Pine Bluff Aviation Commission would not be able to cover that amount from its budget. Ken Johnson, chairman of the Aviation Commission, concurred.

"The commission is not in a position to fund those repairs at this time," Johnson said. "We simply need to see if the city can cough up the necessary funds to go ahead and complete this project."

Hale noted that much of the storm cleanup, clearing 10 downed trees and picking up debris from around the property, was not covered by insurance, leaving the Aviation Commission to pay $7,500 out-of-pocket.

Trafford asked if the adjustment is needed to pay for repairs that were done or to complete repairs.

Hale said the remaining $13,455 is needed to complete the repairs to the hangar door enclosures.

"We're short because the [Arkansas Municipal League] discovered, in their opinion, that they had paid for part of the roof on the previous claim," he said. "With them deducting, I think it was about $40,000, that puts of short on the amount needed to complete the repairs. We're kind of in a dilemma here with them tying one event to the other."

Alexander asked, by way of clarification, if the money Hale was seeking constitutes an advance while the city works to settle the insurance dispute with the Municipal League in an attempt to recover the $40,000 deduction.

"I don't know that the city is going to get that money back, and it's not $40,000, it's about $13,500 that we're short," Hale replied. "They initially gave us enough money to cover all of the expenses and had I received all of the money on that claim to begin with, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

"I've asked the contractor who is working with us to stay with us until we get this sorted out," he said. "But this happened April 12 and here it is almost August."

Alexander said she would consult with Miller and Mayor Shirley Washington to see about getting Hale's budget adjustment request fulfilled.

Trafford then made a motion to place the budget-adjustment request, with the funds to be made available from whichever city account Miller deems most appropriate, on the next council agenda, which both Hatchett and Alexander approved.

"My hope is that you will have the support of the full council on this request," Trafford told Hale. "You and your crew do an amazing job on a small budget and you are the front door to the city for anyone who comes here by air. There are a lot of corporate people who come here by air and we need to do all we can to make sure you are taken care of."

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