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Shelby visits county, municipal airport

Greenville Airport Manager Travis Capps and Councilman Dexter McLendon show Senator Richard Shelby the runway at the airport. The senator made the trip to the airport on Saturday after discussion at a county meeting turned to infrastructure and a grant that the city had applied for to extend the runway to accomodate larger aircraft for business and industryial prospects looking to locate in Butler County.

Photo by Robert Blankenship

A county meeting featuring Senator Richard Shelby turned into a field trip to the Greenville Municipal Airport Saturday afternoon to look at the runway which city officials are hoping can be extended with the help of a grant from the federal government.

The weekend meeting, scheduled for 12:30 p.m., was poorly attended with only Councilmember Dexter McLendon, Police Chief Lonzo Ingram and two other citizens on hand to hear from the republican senator. But, the poor attendance turned into a blessing for the city as the informal discussion turned to economic development and the city's effort to improve the airport.

"We know the unemployment is high in this county," Shelby said. "But, the answer, other than good education for your workforce, is infrastructure. You have mentioned that you are looking to improve the airport. I am going to try to help you. Some people may say that it (airport) does not matter, but it does matter."

The city has applied for a grant to help extend the airport's runway from 3,800 feet to 5,000 feet or more.

"We applied for the grant several years ago and we are having a hard time getting it funded," McLendon said. "He did not make us any promises, but he did say that he would try to help us."

The city would like to improve the airport and make it more accessible to help bring more industries and businesses into Greenville.

"Every large company has a jet these days. Basically, many of these jets cannot land here in Greenville because their insurance will not cover them on a runway this small. Therefore, they have to land in Montgomery and drive to Greenville.

"These people need to be able to fly straight into Greenville. For these people time is money and these CEOs want to be able to fly in and fly out," McLendon said.

During the meeting, Shelby also showed a series of charts indicating where government money comes from and where it goes to.

"Individual income tax brought in 48 percent of the money last year. Payroll taxes brought in an additional 34 percent. Going out this past year was direct benefit payments to individuals at 51 percent, the highest in the history of this country. National defense was at 15 percent of our budget and interest on our debt is getting close to that. All other operations stand at 23 percent," Shelby said.

He also said that Alabama was receiving more money for highways and other infrastructure projects.

"In 1996, the state received about $300 million as opposed to $600 million in the year 2000. The reason for this is due to a change in the formula for distribution. This means the state highway department is getting more money than it ever has. We have an opportunity in this state to finish a lot of road projects, a lot of infrastructure projects and bridges," he said.

As voters in South Carolina were making there way to the polls to vote in their primary, Shelby said he would like to see Alabama hold an early primary in the future so that citizens of this state can help decide who would run for president.

"I wish Alabama had a presidential primary. I say this because we have a primary in June. Well, by June we'll have states like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa to decide who will be our presidential nominee. The legislature could change that so easily and the focus would have been on Alabama. The national media would have been in Alabama and it would help our economy. I am going to talk to the governor about this and some other legislators. They have to think four years down the road. It would give us a say so," he said.

Shelby said he would like to visit Butler County again.

"I would like to come here for a Chamber of Commerce lunch or something of that nature where we could have the whole county together," he said.

Despite the loss of jobs over the past year, Shelby said he believed the county was on the road to recovery.

"It sounds like you are on the right road, but in the meantime people get hurt. You take 400 jobs out of a community this size it affects a lot of people," he said.