Foothills Regional Airport sees 'night and day' improvement in finances

Jun. 26, 2013 @ 05:06 PM

For the Foothills Regional Airport Authority, 2013-14 is shaping up to be a better year than 2012-13, by far.

Financial estimates for the end of the fiscal year June 30 represent a “night and day” improvement over this time last year, Authority bookkeeper Norm Sherwood said.

“If you look at where we were last year, we had empty gas tanks and no cash,” Sherwood said at the authority board’s monthly meeting on Wednesday.

Now revenues are set to exceed projections, and the authority won’t need to request additional funding from the four local entities that help fund it. That’s a change from last year, when the Morganton, Lenoir, Caldwell County and Burke County were asked for a last-minute infusion of funds for the airport authority – a request each entity granted.

Last June, the airport was facing an FBI probe and the dawning realization that two employees had conspired to defraud the airport of more than $100,000.

Former airport manager Alex Nelson and operations manager Brad Adkins have since pleaded guilty to charges of engaging in a public corruption conspiracy and embezzlement, and – in Nelson’s case – money laundering.

This time last year, the airport authority was also under pressure from the North Carolina Local Government Commission to complete its financial audits. The airport’s audits had been on time only twice in the previous eight years, and the airport was late again on its 2011 audit.

The airport’s former auditor has since withdrawn. The airport authority contracted with Lowdermilk Church & Co. to complete the missing audits, which have since been delivered. At the Wednesday meeting, the board approved another contract with Lowdermilk for the 2013 audit, which has to be completed by October.

Before the FBI investigation began, the airport’s financial workings were murky – and the entities funding it “weren’t getting answers,” said Lenoir Assistant City Manager Danny Gilbert, who now serves as the board’s finance officer.

Since then, the authority has revamped its internal reporting procedures and controls along with the airport’s leadership, Gilbert said. Longtime employee Brent Brinkley was appointed as the airport’s new manager after a six-month term as interim manager.

No new information was available on Wednesday about two fuel trucks sold by the airport in 2010. The money for the sale is unaccounted for, and no documentation of the sale has been found.

Gilbert said on Wednesday that no new information about the trucks has surfaced.