Attorney Donald J. Tribbett (L) and Warsaw Airport Manager Nick King (R) respond to questions from the Warsaw Common Council Monday night regarding moving the airport from a board of aviation commissioners to a city-county airport authority. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
Attorney Donald J. Tribbett (L) and Warsaw Airport Manager Nick King (R) respond to questions from the Warsaw Common Council Monday night regarding moving the airport from a board of aviation commissioners to a city-county airport authority. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
With the Warsaw Common Council unanimously approving a resolution Monday moving the airport to a city-county airport authority, it’s now up to the Kosciusko County Council to consider.

Airport Manager Nick King gave a presentation on the authority to the city council March 6, but he and Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer asked the council to table the resolution for it until Monday so the council could weigh the matter. King returned to the council Monday, along with attorney Donald J. Tribbett, Logansport, to answer any questions the city council may have. Tribbett has been advising King and the city on the process of moving the airport’s board of aviation commissioners (BOAC) to a city-county airport authority.

Councilwoman Diane Quance asked, if the resolution was passed, would the airport no longer be owned by the city but by the airport authority, and if the city and county would have equal representation on the authority.

King said the airport now is owned by the BOAC. The BOAC falls under the umbrella of the city, so “we would be changing the (BOAC) from the BOAC to an airport authority, and then expanding that over the entire county. So, the city would still have an equal share on the table.” King said the city would have three board members and then each of the three county commissioners would each appoint a member for a total of six members on the authority’s board. “We would be transferring the ownership of the airport from the (BOAC) to the airport authority,” he explained.

Quance then asked if the airport employees would remain employees of the city or of the authority. King said they would be employees of the authority.

Councilman Jerry Frush asked why there were six authority board members instead of an odd number like seven. Thallemer said the number of board members is statutory. City attorney Scott Reust said he was told that the thinking regarding the equal number was that the legislators wanted the city and county to have “equal power” so that’s why they each appointed three members.

Tribbett told the council the authority is its own political subdivision. Council President Jack Wilhite asked if there were political affiliation requirements to the authority. Tribbett said yes; the city can not appoint more than two from one political party, and the same with the county. Technically, the authority could end up with four members from one political party and two from the other. Appointments would begin staggard, but each appointment would eventually be for four-year terms.

Tribbett also informed the council that they have oversight over the budget, and the authority could contract its administrative functions - like payroll - out to the county or city.

Quance asked if the airport going to an authority would have any effect on the federal projects the airport has. King said they would not, and he’s already started the conversation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they’ve started the process of moving from a BOAC to an airport authority.

Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins asked King when he was meeting with the county council. King said in April, depending on how Monday’s meeting went, but he’d probably present it to the county at their April meeting and ask them to approve the resolution at their May meeting.

If the county adopts the resolution, the authority would begin Jan. 1. The authority would have to operate under a 2024 budget provided by the city because the authority would only begin collecting tax dollars from the whole county in 2024.  

“I’ve had great conversations with Nick on several occasions. I think it’s a great idea whose time has come if we’re going to continue to grow and prosper as a community, if we want to retain and grow our orthopedic business, which is so important to everybody. The time has come,” Councilman Mike Klondaris said.

Councilman Jeff Grose made the motion to approve the resolution, Dobbins seconded it and it passed 7-0.

The council also approved several salary ordinances on first and second readings, including one for the newly created position of CARES (Community Assistance, Resources and Emergency Services) navigator/responder at a maximum hourly wage of $21.63. The position is fully funded by a grant for three years.

The CARES program began in 2020 as a city initiative to assist those with mental health needs.

Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory EMS Chief and CARES Director Chris Fancil told the council, “We actually were lucky to receive part of an RCORP grant through the Bowen Center’s guidance. We actually received that in November of last year. Our part of the grant request was to hire someone that would work with the CARES program for three years. The purpose of this grant is to cover all the expenses in employing that person for three years.”

The new CARES person will lean more toward substance and opioid abuse, while still also helping people with mental health issues. Fancil said the council approving the ordinance will allow them to fill the position.

“What I anticipate is going to happen is I’m going to continue to pursue grant opportunities to pay for both that person and the spot that Mikaela Bixler already has,” he said.

Thallemer said American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars are paying for Bixler’s position for three years, and then the RCORP grant will pay for the new position for three years. Fancil said the fire department covers Bixler’s benefits and all those other things, with ARPA covering her wages, but the RCORP grant will cover all the expenses of the new position, “which is a huge benefit to our community.”

Fancil said they may be a little early on moving on the position, but “at the same time, the federal grant money - they’re wanting us to start spending that since we’ve had it since November. We have to start showing that we’re progressing, doing what we said we were going to do.”

He said they work closely with the county prosecutor’s office and police and that Bixler spends about half of her time dealing with people who are dealing with substance abuse.

“We’ve learned you just can’t separate mental health concerns from addiction issues,” Thallemer said. Under the duties of the job description for the new position, the top priority will be to assist with CARES, but the new person will have the additional responsibilities of a navigator for those with an addiction.

The new position will report to Fancil and ultimately the fire department chief. The ordinance takes effect April 16 and a person has yet to be hired.

In other business, the council approved:

• A resolution to give two parcels of property adjacent to the Hand Avenue bridge to the county for $1,400 and $1,500 for right-of-way for the county’s bridge project. The county will have to approve a similar resolution to buy the parcels from the city.

• Conflict of interest statements for Dobbins and Public Works Superintendent Dustin Dillon.

• Ordinances correcting clerical errors on the fire and police salary ordinances.

• A resolution for the Warsaw Police Department to transfer $15,000 to police machinery and equipment after a grant was received for rescue dive equipment.