Our View: Airport decision another example of city budget creep




What are we missing here? 


In November, the Lowndes County Airport Board of Directors unanimously chose Jared Rabren to manage the city-county airport as its Fixed Base Operator (FBO). Although just 25-years-old at the time, board members noted he had the kind of relevant experience that made his age a non-factor in its decision. Rabren had been working as operations manager for Bryan Field, the municipal airport in Starkville, for a year at the time of his hiring. Prior to that, he worked stints as a mechanic at the Cleveland Airport in Bolivar County and as a lineman at the Greenwood-Leflore Airport. 


Board members also liked his ambitious plans for the airport. 


In the six months since taking over, Rabren has concentrated his efforts on cleaning up the airport property - making sure the grass is cut and the buildings are clean. 


Yet on Tuesday night, the Columbus City Council approved a recommendation to hire Rick Milburn as consultant to help Rabren with his duties, particularly obtaining grants for upgrades and improvements. The Lowndes County supervisors also signed off on the move. The airport is owned by the county and city, so each government will provide $500 for the five consultation meetings proposed by the airport board. 


This is a curious move on a couple of fronts. 


Most notably, we question why the board feels it necessary to hire a consultant. By all accounts Rabren has already been making improvements. 


On Tuesday, city administrator David Armstrong told the council that Rabren needed an "elder statesman" and that he needed someone with "lots of experience."  


Milburn, 71, had offered his consulting services to the airport board at the time of Rabren's hiring. Now, he'll provide those services for $200 per consulting session. 


Perhaps there are legitimate board concerns that haven't been made public, in which case help may be warranted. But that leads to our second concern. 


The city council voted to provide the funding for the consultant despite a "spending freeze" implemented in the wake of a financial situation projected to result in a $300,000 shortfall by the end of the fiscal year. The spending freeze, first announced in December, was part of the city's plan to eliminate the shortfall. 


Spending $500 in un-budgeted money admittedly isn't going to break the bank, but since the freeze was enacted, multiple un-budgeted expenditures have been approved, making us concerned the spending creep that has put the city in this situation continues. 


At the least, it's a bad look. 


At the worst, it raises the question about how seriously the city is taking its budget issues.



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