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Henry wants slice of Tara Field pie

By Michael Davis

Gerry Adams steers his county-issue SUV out to the way as a plane taxis to the runway, getting ready for take off from Clayton County's Tara Field.

Adams, Henry County's District IV Commissioner, has been the manager at Clayton County's general aviation airport in Hampton for about three months and deftly winds his way through hangers and around the terminal, highlighting points of interest.

One major point of interest is that the two governments may one day jointly control the airport.

Still in negotiations, the Henry and Clayton county governments are looking for a way to share control of what could potentially be a very profitable commodity.

County Manager Linda Angus said that if Henry County could gain some control of the airport, it could be an industrial lift for Henry.

"There's a real opportunity for development," Angus said. "I think the board feels like the county should've bought the airport when they had the opportunity years ago."

The issue of Henry County not controlling an airport that is within its boundaries was raised about a year ago.

Henry County planners and District II Commissioner Gary Freedman held a town hall meeting in Hampton to unveil their proposed zoning districts in the airport area. The districts focused primarily on commercial and industrial uses and discouraged residential development in areas that could be potentially impacted by airport expansion.

"Citizens asked why we don't have some type of control of that airport," Freedman said. "My understanding is that Henry County had the opportunity to buy it and didn't because of finances."

If the agreement is approved, Henry County would be able to appoint its own members to a joint airport authority to set policy for operation of the field, giving Henry partial control of expansion plans and operations. Each county would get four appointments, Angus said.

"What we're trying to do is have a 50-50 partnership where the Henry board and Clayton would have an intergovernmental agreement," Angus said. "We're hoping to wrap it up at least by June."

Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said that though he doesn't see a problem with joint ownership, he's not receptive to the idea of equal control of an eight-member airport authority.

"Eventually that might occur, but it's not going to occur initially," Bray said. "We've got a lot invested and we want to see it's going somewhere."

Henry County officials want to wrap the deal up as quickly as possible in light of Bray's decision not to seek reelection. His term expires Dec. 31.

"I think it would be good to get it done while he's there and there are commissioners on the board that are agreeable," Freedman said.

The airport has been in operation for decades. Bray said Clayton bought the airport in 1992 along with around 200 acres surrounding it for about $10 million.

"It means a tremendous amount for Henry County because its got such an industrial base," he said.

By encouraging industrial uses in the areas surrounding the airport, Angus said that the county could enhance its revenues through taxes on industry without impacting residents through property taxes.

"A bedroom community is nice, but you've got to have the industry to support it," she said.

Freedman said the county is looking primarily at buying land around the airport as a way of leveraging control.

Providing space for any future expansion would give Henry County an interest in the airport's operation and positions on the airport authority. He said the county is waiting on appraisals of the land before proceeding.

"If we bought the land around it, that would be for expansion," he said.

"By us acquiring partial ownership, it would give us some control of the operations and protect the quality of life of our citizens in that area," he added.