On a Wing and a Prayer

Wheeling-Ohio County Airport Manager Tom Tominack presented a letter Wednesday to the Ohio County Commission that he wrote on its behalf related to the airport control tower’s planned closure by the government.

Tominack presented Commissioners Orphy Klempa, Tim McCormick and Randy Wharton the letter before making his budget requests for fiscal 2014. The letter is addressed to David Grizzle, chief operating officer of the Air Traffic Organization at the Federal Aviation Administration. It states reasons why the airport needs its tower and how it would be a safety hazard if it were to close.

”In response to your March 5 notice to close the Wheeling Control Tower due to the budget sequestration … I respectfully request that the Wheeling Ohio County Airport be removed from the closure list,” Tominack said.

He said without a tower, more runway incursions are likely to occur.

”During my 31-year aviation career I can cite on many occasions when incidents were only avoided due to (an air traffic controller) being at this location,” he said.

He also notes the airport supports the National Guard and Armory that trains with Black Hawk helicopters. The airport also has a user agreement with the U.S. Air Force, which trains with C-130s nearly every day using the tower as part of its training. The airport also hosts the U.S. Army Reserve Center for the 463rd Engineers.

The sequester calls for reducing the FAA’s budget by $600 million. Because of this, it plans to close towers that have fewer than 150,000 flights per year. The Ohio County airport logged about 38,000 flights last year.

Meanwhile, during his budget hearing, Tominack projected his revenues at $983,500 and expenditures at $983,193. He requested his building maintenance fund be increased from $4,000 to $15,000 to allow for repairs to the aviation center’s roof.

During her hearing, Assessor Kathie Hoffman asked for a $500 pay raise for her 15 employees, but noted even a 1 percent increase would be helpful.

”They work hard and do their job and are here every day,” Hoffman said.

She also requested funding, at least $10,000, to purchase four used vehicles for her data collectors and appraisers to use while visiting properties. The office now has a 2000 Chevy Blazer with ”a body that is falling apart” and a 2010 Ford Escape. Wharton said he would talk to Sheriff Pat Butler to see if he has any used cruisers she could use. He also noted it might be more economical to purchase a new vehicle every year or so.

John Miller, West Virginia University Extension agent for Ohio County, requested $183,928 and noted he would like to hire an assistant for the new 4-H agent, Lewis Honecker. Honecker said he plans to expand 4-H to include more science-based programs, such as robotics, instead of just agriculture.

Lee Day Report Center Director Fred McDonald said Ohio County’s share of the program, which includes home confinement monitoring, is $30,000 plus the cost of monitoring devices. He noted every year the program saves Northern Panhandle counties money on their Northern Regional Jail bills.

The fiscal 2013 general fund budget was $12,377,265. The new budget is slated to be approved at 6 p.m. March 19 in Room 215 of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St., Wheeling.

Staff Writer Joselyn King contributed to this report.