Hancock County officials spar over airport funds, keys

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Posted July 01, 2011, at 1:23 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — To sort out a dispute between the county’s airport manager and chief financial officer, Hancock County commissioners plan to consult with the Federal Aviation Administration over how the county’s airport fund should be managed.

Allison Navia, the airport’s manager, sent commissioners a written complaint on June 17 about $750,000 being transferred from the airport’s general fund to the county’s general fund by Phil Roy, the county’s chief financial officer.

During the commissioners’ meeting Thursday, she told them that the transfer of the money, in two separate transactions, violates Federal Aviation Administration rules about how airport revenue must be handled. The FAA requires that all revenue generated by the airport must be spent on airport expenses in order for the facility to qualify for federal funding. Diverting such revenue toward purposes unrelated to the airport budget is not allowed, she said.

Navia said she had no idea the money was not in the airport’s operating budget until Janice Eldridge, the county’s elected treasurer, told her that Roy had transferred it out. The transfers were made in February and March of this year, she said, and she only found out at the end of May.

The discovery caused her “great distress,” Navia said, and has drawn the attention of the FAA, which has requested documentation of how the money was handled.

“It was their federal law that was broken,” Navia said of the agency. “I think that some action needs to be taken for this [inappropriate transfer].”

Roy told commissioners that the transfer was legal and that he has been open in all his dealings with county funds. Navia, he said, never contacted him to inquire about the funds, either before or after finding out about the transfer from Eldridge. In response, Navia said she did not contact Roy because it was immediately clear to her what had happened and that it should not have happened.

Roy said the reason he transferred the money from the airport to the county’s general fund was to invest it. The money since has been transferred back to the airport account, along with the $2,400 in interest it earned during a period of several months, he said.

“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Roy said.

Anytime any county department head wants to see monthly statements about the county’s finances, he said, he will provide them to him or her.

“All they have to do is ask,” he said.

Commissioners pointed out that more officials than just Roy and Navia are involved in the airport budget, and that greater communication among all of them likely could have prevented the disagreement. Eldridge approved the transfer when it happened, months before telling Navia about it, they noted.

Commission Chairman Steve Joy said Roy has been asked to help generate revenue by investing county funds and to save money where possible. But he said commissioners did not know how much airport money Roy had transferred for investment.

“Sometimes we make mistakes,” Joy said. “There’s enough blame here to go around for everybody.”

“I think the basic thing we are talking about here is communication,” Commissioner Fay Lawson added.

Commissioners indicated that they plan to provide FAA with the documentation it has asked for and will wait to hear from the agency whether the transfers violated FAA rules.

But they were divided on whether to dismiss Navia’s formal complaint against Roy. Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown was in favor of dismissing the complaint, saying that the FAA would find fault with the commissioners, not Roy, if the transfers were inappropriate. Joy and Lawson voted not to dismiss the complaint, suggesting they wanted to hear first from the FAA.

Commissioners also considered on Thursday an unrelated complaint about Roy from Eldridge, the county’s elected treasurer.

Eldridge told them new locks recently have been installed on several filing cabinets in the county’s financial affairs office, and that she was not provided with copies of the new keys. She said Roy also requested she give him her keys to the office, telling her she would be allowed to inspect records only when it was open during regular business hours.

Roy told commissioners it was his duty to safeguard the county’s financial records and that he didn’t think Eldridge needed the keys to the office and filing cabinets.

The commissioners overruled Roy, saying that the county charter gives the county’s elected treasurer the responsibility of overseeing the county’s financial records. They voted 3-0 in favor of making sure Eldridge was supplied with all the keys she needs to access them.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/07/01/news/hancock/hancock-county-officials-spar-over-airport-funds-keys/ printed on December 21, 2014