Shaheen defends T-33 at Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency meeting

chwright@macon.comJuly 8, 2013 

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The T-33 outside the Warner Robins Recreation Department on Watson Boulevard could be moving to a spot off Interstate 75.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com Buy Photo

WARNER ROBINS -- Though a venture to move a plane to the interstate is not a Redevelopment Agency project, the board discussed it Monday with some insight from Mayor Chuck Shaheen.

Ultimately, the board didn’t vote on anything and spent most of the 15-minute discussion trying to get a clear answer to Councilman Mike Daley’s question about funding for the project that will relocate a T-33 next to Interstate 75. The board spent the rest of the meeting discussing a $5,000 invoice that hadn’t been previously approved and updates on tax allocation districts and the law enforcement center.

Daley and Councilman Mike Brashear spent much of last week’s precouncil meeting arguing with Shaheen about the plane project, which originally would have placed an F-15 at the Warner Robins and Centerville exit. Shaheen said Robins Air Force Base officials told him it would be cheaper and easier to relocate a T-33 from the Recreation Department instead, and then dock the F-15 where the T-33 had been. Daley and Brashear argued a T-33 doesn’t represent work done on the base.

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins said the project appeared on the RDA agenda Monday to give the board an update on the city’s new plans.

“It’s never been an RDA project,” said Robbins, an ex-officio member of the RDA board. “For some reason, it got put on their agenda years ago, and it’s just continued to be.”

Daley asked at Monday’s RDA meeting whether the $25,000 council approved for the revamped project would pay for moving both planes or just the trainer jet. But most of the discussion was Shaheen defending the change to the project.

“Did you advise them this has turned into politics?” Shaheen asked Gary Lee, executive director of the RDA, after walking into the board meeting.

At that mention, board member Jim Balletto exited the conference room and never returned. He has led the efforts for the original plan and was unable to talk at last week’s council meeting when Shaheen and others cut him off several times.

Shaheen said in two years the city has been unable to get the $80,000 needed to move the F-15 to the interstate. His concern, he said, is the city could lose the F-15 altogether.

“We just need to take possession of the plane,” Shaheen said. “If we need to find the money next year to build the pedestal (for the F-15 to go near the interstate), then I’m fine with that.”

Shaheen said in another time, the city probably could get the base to fly the plane out to the interstate. But not with all the recent cutbacks.

“We couldn’t even get the military to move chairs for (the Independence concert) this weekend,” Shaheen said.

Lee said the base will still own the F-15. It’ll just be docked at the Recreation Department. Board member Bill Douglas pointed out that doesn’t prevent the base from taking the plane back if it chooses.

Eventually, the answer to Daley’s question surfaced. The money council approved will only pay for the T-33 to be relocated, including the stand it will sit on.

Lee said a company that pledged concrete for the original project has agreed to donate material for the slab needed to dock the F-15 at the Recreation Department. He is meeting this week to find out how much is needed.

Bill Harte, chief finance officer and board treasurer, said he will write donors who contributed a total of about $7,500 to the original project to find out if they agree with the city using the money for the new plans. If not, the money will be returned.

Brashear said by phone after the meeting that he can agree with Shaheen’s plan to continue looking for funding to eventually move the F-15 to the interstate. But he said he would like a more solid plan for the new idea.

“A lot is going to be needed to dock that (F-15,)” he said, including strong ties.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board balked at an invoice First Choice Primary Care sent the city for a consultant the Macon nonprofit hired to work on a grant application that could extend its federal funding to open a Warner Robins location.

Lee said the city never agreed to help pay for the consultant and thought the man-hours the city lent for the application process was sufficient.

Chairman Randy Meade instructed Lee to email First Choice and tell them the board would not pay a bill it never discussed. He suggested First Choice call the consultant to arrange payment with its September allocation from the federal government.

“We fully support this project, though,” Lee said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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