Stark County Commissioners approved providing Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport with $540,000 as a local match toward $20 million in one-time state funds Thursday.
The funds will go toward the airport's runway expansion and taxiway rehabilitation project, which began its first phase in April.
Airport Manager Kelly Braun asked commissioners at their May 7 meeting for $600,000, but the request was tabled over a community member's concerns.
At a special meeting Thursday, Sandra Kuntz, a local attorney and airport neighbor, accused airport management of poor planning.
"The devil is in the details," she said. "We're hearing this plan began in 2013, 2011, and there were discussions in the last legislative session about proper funding being done. Why are we here today, on the eve of a deadline to get federal funding and state funding, finally hearing what that local match needs to be?"
She added, "This is not about whether the airport is good or not for the community. It's about how you are involving the community and when."
Kuntz argued the request was the result of underestimating the cost of land acquisitions through condemnation actions against two neighboring property owners.
"Last fall, (the airport was) here indicating they needed the road vacated, they needed that land, and they were moving forward with eminent domain and they did so," she said. "They got a court order, and only under those circumstances did they engage in their negotiations with the landowners."
Braun said the airport's planning was based on appraisal values. Negotiations had not begun.
"We used the best information we had at the time to put that capital improvement plan together and have good numbers, so when we ask the feds for a grant, or the state, and we ask for a local share, we know what those numbers are," he said.
Airport Authority Counsel Randy Sickler, of Ebeltoft Sickler Lawyers, disputed the idea that the land had not been negotiated before the condemnation action was pursued.
Each step of the planning and negotiating process had to be reported to and justified by the Federal Aviation Administration, as well.
"There is a process under the FAA that you go about when trying to acquire land," he said. "You start with negotiations, contacts, and when you don't reach that resolution you start an eminent domain action."
He added, "As with any negotiations, you don't tip your hand right up front."
The action was brought to trial in October and resolved about six weeks ago, Sickler said, with the closing on the properties completed May 17.
Tom Schauer, KLJ Engineering senior aviation advisor, reported that more than 80 notifications were sent out to neighboring properties over a nearly five mile radius for various city and airport meetings on the project, including two environmental assessment public input hearings in 2016.
Commissioner Ken Zander voiced concerns over indirect state and federal influence over local governments.
"My concern is that, because there's federal and state involvement, that the local authority is following the directions of the state and federal process, and not everybody can go out and build an airport," he said.
Commissioner Jay Elkin motioned to provide the funds and offered words of support for the airport and its projects.
"This airport is an asset not only to the community, but this region as a whole. I don't know where we'd be without this airport," he said. "We all recognize and know the economic value of having a good airport here."
Commissioner Carla Arthaud voted against providing the local match.