After the Statesboro Bulloch County Airport received more than $500,000 in unexpected income from a movie production, the county is borrowing the full $750,000 needed to build a new two-bay rental hangar for corporate planes.
Both County Manager Tom Couch and Airport Manager Kathy Boykin say that the airport should be able to repay loan a large portion of the loan with its income from hangar rentals and fuel sales. While repaying in five years at a very low, 1.5% annual interest rate, Couch said, the county- operated airport can also hold on to much of the nest egg it has accumulated and be better prepared for any possible break in Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, revenue.
Another project awaiting construction is the “rehabilitation,” or resurfacing, of the airport’s parallel taxiway, at an originally estimated overall cost of $1.2 million. For projects like that, the airport receives Federal Aviation Administration grants through the Georgia Department of Transportation, but these usually require a local share in the funding.
“A lot of this debt issue ought to be at least partially paid back with rental income and gas sales, and you know the airport is well funded right now,” Couch said Thursday.
He noted that it would have enough to pay for this one project outright.
“But while they have a lot of money in the bank, we recommended that it would be better if they financed a short-term revenue bond through the Public Facilities Authority, and then that way they have enough cash flow to meet local match requirements for the FAA and DOT grants that they get,” Couch said.
Financing the hangar project also “creates kind of a hedge” in the airport’s accounts to sustain it “in the unforeseen circumstance where T-SPLOST wouldn’t be renewed,” he said.
When approved by the majority of Bulloch County voters in 2018, the five-year 1% sales tax for transportation spending earmarked up to $562,500 to the airport. That was out total projected revenue of $48 million to $60 million, with the largest shares for road and street projects in the county and its cities.
T-SPLOST is trending toward the high end of that range, Couch said, but voters would have to approve in a new referendum for it to extend past the fifth year.
Three of the elected Bulloch County commissioners – Jappy Stringer, Anthony Simmons and Timmy Rushing – met in a specially appointed role as the Bulloch County Public Facilities Authority at 5 p.m. Tuesday and authorized issuing a bond to BB&T Governmental Finance. BB&T offered the $750,000 at 1.5%, the lowest rate among quotes received from five banks.
Then during the meeting of the full Board of Commissioners at 5:30 p.m., all six approved an intergovernmental agreement with the authority, committing county revenue, if needed, to repay the loan.
“It’s almost like making an agreement with yourself,” Couch said, “but it’s all perfectly legal and above-board.”
The Bulloch County Public Facilities Authority was created by a county-specific act of the state Legislature in 2020. By acting through the authority, the county government can issue bonds in certain instances without holding a referendum. Similarly, Statesboro’s city government used a newly created Urban Redevelopment Agency earlier this year for the $4.5 million single-bank bond used to finance upgrades to two parks.
Local company Hawk Construction LLC landed the corporate hangar installation contract with a bid price of $683,341, accepted by the commissioners June 15. Hawk’s price was the lowest among sealed bids received from five companies.
The plan calls for installation of a metal building enclosing two separate 75-by-75-foot hangar spaces, each with a small office and restroom in one corner, on a concrete slab, plus some paving to include parking spaces.
This will match the airport’s one existing two-bay corporate hangar. One of its 75-by-75 bays is occupied by one corporate jet shared by several local businesses, while four smaller planes share the other bay, said Boykin, the airport manager.
“The reason we want the bigger hangars is because we have a lot of requests for charter services and jets, different things like that, that could base the aircraft here if we had the larger hangers,” she said.
But Boykin had talked Thursday to someone from Hawk Construction and been told the firm cannot get the materials needed until December, so construction will not be occurring right away, she said.
Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport also has T-hangar buildings with spaces for 53 relatively small planes. It is home to five other hangars, including one used for a Georgia Forestry Commission aircraft, two used as maintenance shops and one privately owned.
“We have a waiting list for corporate hangars as well as the smaller T-hangars,” Boykin said. “A lot of people want to relocate their aircraft to our airport. … We’ve got several things in our favor.”
In addition to having a 6,000-foot runway for jets, the airport is staffed and sells jet fuel as well as aviation gasoline, she notes. It also has fuel trucks and so can offer full-service as well as self-serve fueling.
“A lot of smaller airports only have avgas, self-serve,” Boykins said. “So that helps, and then we’ve just had the runway rehabbed, and then there’s the location.”
In March and April, a mockup of the superstructure of the Korean War-era aircraft carrier USS Leyte was built on a back runway of the airport, which was then used in filming portions of the major motion picture “Devotion.” The production company leased the space and paid the airport, or in effect the county, for this use.
“That’s a blessing too. …,” Boykin said, after noting this unexpected income exceeded half a million dollars. “That’s revenue to the airport that will help pay for these other projects.”
The airport’s total revenue from the movie appears to have been $529,780, with the additional $29,780 coming mostly from the moviemakers’ purchases of aviation fuel, Couch said Friday.
The county received bids in April for the taxiway rehab project, and R.B. Baker Construction, an affiliate of Reeves Construction, submitted the lowest bid among four companies bidding, Couch reported. Baker’s base bid was $852,504 with an additive alternate of $89,536.
Boykin cited $1.2 million as the total estimated project cost and noted that the winning bid was within this.
Currently this project faces both some uncertainty and the possibility of cost-savings to the county and airport. Because of some special provisions of federal COVID-19 pandemic recovery funding, no local funding match was required last year on a grant for the design work.
That would also be the case with the construction funding if it moves forward this federal fiscal year, saving what would usually be a 5% required local match with 90% federal and 5% state funding, Boykin said.
But the GDOT has not received more federal funding yet to be able to allocate any to Bulloch County.
“That’s on hold until the federal government allocates the funding for the project, and if they get that here before the bid expires we’ll be able to go forward with that,” she said. “Right now we’re just wanting for the federal government to allocate the money.”
She had heard to expect word on that by August 17.