Multi-county coal severance funding must be approved in the county that would host the proposed project and by another neighboring county that would benefit.
The Floyd County Fiscal Court has already approved the resolution, but commercial air service project leaders have found resistance from the Pike County Fiscal Court.
Floyd County Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall feels it would be a good investment to use multi-county coal severance funds to bring commercial air service to the region.
“The benefits of corporate people to be able to locate into our area — be it businesses, small factories, restaurant chains, anything that has a group [that travels via plane] — for them to be able to come to a nearby adjacent county, which is our next door neighbor, Pike County, would benefit Floyd County, for sure,” Marshall said.
The U.S. 23 sewage project that is currently underway will open up Floyd County to new businesses, Marshall explained, and those business leaders will need an efficient means of travel.
During a July 17 meeting, the Pike County Fiscal Court took no action on the proposal, and Magistrate Chris Harris, who did not attend the meeting, voiced his opposition, via letter, to using “local tax dollars to subsidize commercial air service.”
Schmidt compared the proposal to the ways county, city and state governments authorize tax incentives for new industries.
“Anytime an airline starts a new route or expands into a new market, particularly a smaller market like Pikeville, they want to be assured that they are not going to be losing money left and right,” he said. “This is similar to recruiting new industry into a community. Many local governments approve tax incentives for that company, and it’s all designed to help that industry get off to a good start.”
Coal severance funding would ensure the airline that its revenue targets will be met during its first two years of operation in Pikeville. If its revenue goal is, for example, $2 per month and it makes only $1, then coal severance funding would help the company to make up the shortfall.
Schmidt, on behalf of the chamber, city and airport board, issued a press release on Aug. 1 encouraging public support in the matter. He reported that 121,000 passengers fly out of the region from other airports each year.
“When it comes to establishing airline service, it’s all about connectivity — the ability to connect PBX [the airport] literally with the world and the global economy,” he said in the press release. “The proposed service that we are working on will do just that — connect Pike County with the global economy.”
NOVA Pharmacy owner Joel Thornbury noted a local commercial air service would save his pharmacy between $5,000 and $10,000 annually. Appalachian Wireless Marketing Director Danny VanHoose also favors the resolution.
“Think about what this will mean when a community wants to recruit a new business or industry to the region and the CEO of the prospect company can fly commercially right to the heart of the Central Appalachian Region,” he said in the press release. “Simply put, it means new jobs.”
A local commercial airline will also help Pikeville Medical Center, President/CEO Walter E. May said. He has asked Rutherford and county magistrates to pass the resolution.
“Pikeville Medical Center spends thousands of dollars each year on commercial air travel,” he said. “In addition, the hospital spends thousands of dollars each year chartering aircraft in order to meet our mission of serving the region and our patients. Having this service in town will help our medical staff as they travel in and out of the community. This service will also help us recruit new physicians to the community.”
Commercial air service proponents are not seeking funding from the county; only the permission to use multi-county coal severance funding.
Schmidt reported that two commercial airlines have expressed interest in providing service at the Pikeville-Pike County Airport. If made available, the service would benefit residents of 13 counties in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southwestern West Virginia.
The city’s multi-county coal severance funding request is one of 29 multi-county coal severance funding applications that are being considered by state officials, and it’s the only application that is currently incomplete, Schmidt reported. He isn’t sure whether the resistance of Pike County leaders will affect the decision of state leaders who distribute the funds.
“Hopefully, this issue will be resolved next Tuesday,” Schmidt said. “I would hate to see us lose this funding.”
If the court approves the resolution, notification of multi-coal severance funding grants should take approximately one month, Schmidt reported. He will then provide a community incentives package to encourage the two airlines to offer commercial services in Pikeville.
Schmidt encourages local residents to get involved.
“Anyone interested in commercial air service should pick up the phone and call their magistrate or the judge and share their support and encourage the members of the fiscal court to vote yes on the resolution,” he said.