Victoria County Commissioner Gary Burns on Tuesday continued his call for transparency and answers about how the county managed funds after Hurricane Harvey.
During the commissioners’ weekly meeting, Burns referenced a Sunday Advocate story that examined how two key, potentially income-producing buildings at the Victoria Regional Airport remain unrepaired after Hurricane Harvey despite the fact the county has spent more than $4.6 million on other county repairs.
Burns said he’s been receiving calls from people in the community and thinks the court should provide the public more frequent progress reports about its own review of the work and consider requesting a Texas Rangers investigation.
“I think we owe the taxpayers some answers, and we need them pretty quick,” he said.
County Judge Ben Zeller told him that because the conversation was not listed on the commissioners’ agenda, it could not be discussed Tuesday at length. He told Burns that it is his prerogative to add an item on a future meeting agenda for discussion on the matter.
“I don’t know that the Rangers concern themselves with construction projects, but certainly you’re free to speak to whomever you like about whatever you like,” Zeller told Burns.
Burns said he does not think anything criminal occurred, but there has been a “loss of faith in the commissioners’ court.”
“I think we’ve lost some trust with the public, and this would be a way to restore that,” Burns said.
Also Tuesday, commissioners approved a change to the county’s agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation for improvements to the airport’s runway and taxiway. The project is estimated to cost a total of $2,239,920. The county will be responsible for 10% of the costs, about $223,992.
Airport Director Lenny Llerena told commissioners the Victoria Regional Airport did not get the maintenance it needed during the past 10 to 12 years. He said since he took over as the airport’s director in spring 2017, he has been “swimming against the current” to receive grants and make necessary improvements to the airport.
The money spent by the county for the runway and taxiway improvement project is a “small investment” compared to the economic impact the airport brings to the community, Llerena said.
“I can tell you that if you go to that runway, there are sections that are falling apart, and this project will take care of it,” he said.
Zeller said the county has not been able to show a financial return on investment to the airport from a “dollars and cents point of view,” but there are other benefits that come from supporting it, such as having an airport that offers multiple flights daily to major cities in the state.
Llerena said it is his goal to get the airport to “stand on its own.” The airport made a profit in 2018, which was the first time it has been in the black in decades.
“I’m trying to refurbish things with our own money that the airport produces,” he said. “However, there is many, many projects that need to be done, and that’s why we are coming to you guys to ask for some of that money.”
The runway and taxiway project previously was discussed last September, and the estimated cost at that time was about $1.96 million. The project costs will be funded through the county and TxDOT’s aviation facilities grant program, which preserves and improves the state’s general aviation system.
The 10% of the cost that the county will pay, Zeller said, will come out of the county’s reserve fund.
The funding for the work at the airport was approved by the Texas Transportation Commission at its August meeting, according to a media release from the state agency.