Portion of Airport funds withheld
The remainder of grant funds used by the Rutherford County Airport Authority to purchase land around the airport have been frozen by a federal agency.
Approximately $8,000 in funding is being withheld pending a review of the grants by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The grant was used to purchase two tracts of land — including land owned by Rutherford County Commissioner Julius Owens, located at 154 Goshen Road.
“Everything, to our knowledge, was done in accordance to NCDOT but the federal government is doing a review of it,” said Carl Classen, Rutherford County manager.
According to an email between Basil Yap, airport project engineer with the North Carolina Division of Aviation and Classen, the division is not releasing the final payment request until “we are able to address all of the OIGs request and concerns.”
The part of the grant under investigation is money used to pay Owens approximately $300,000 for his 10-acre tract of land. The previous Airport Authority voted to pay the amount in June 2013 in order to clear an obstruction from the airport’s federally-regulated and mandated glide slope.
Classen said the grant funding was used to purchase two pieces of property and the remainder was used for that obstruction clearing.
The Airport Authority purchased the Owens property — which was appraised at over half the purchase price. At the time, then-Airport Authority Chairman Bob Howard said the Authority could potentially lose $150,000 in yearly federal money.
However, later it was discovered the Airport Authority had reached a tentative agreement with Owens to remove the tree for $12,000 but the agreement was never signed, nor enforced.
Subsequently, Classen conducted a review of Airport Authority reports at the request of the Rutherford County Commission.
In August 2013 commissioners voted to remove the then-Authority and enforce a local bill — House Bill 290 — and become the Authority themselves.
In an email response to Yap, Classen said he disagreed with the decision to hold the reimbursement funds from the county. He said the funds have already been spent based on the approval from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
He added the county would be willing to turn over any “additional accounting of expenditures authorized by the Airport Authority Board under the grant or any supporting documentation.”