EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Mayor Lantigua

June 12, 2011

FAA investigates Lantigua's use of airport money

LAWRENCE — Money earned by the Lawrence Airport will now be held in a special fund after federal officials suggested Mayor William Lantigua had compromised safety at the facility by raiding its revenues to beef up the city's general fund.

The Federal Aviation Administration also accused Lantigua of ignoring two requests to produce the airport's financial ledgers and gave him until May 13 to produce them or face a much wider investigation at the facility that could result in an end to federal aid for the airport and other sanctions.

Lantigua complied May 11.

The FAA began asking about spending and revenues at the airport in July, a few weeks after the City Council adopted a budget for the city that included Lantigua's proposal to cut airport spending by 16 percent to $441,140. The spending cut — accomplished by cutting the airport's tiny maintenance crew — created an $85,000 surplus in the airport budget that the FAA said was diverted to the city's general fund in violation of federal law.

"The city is responsible to operate and maintain the airport in a safe and serviceable condition," Bryon Rakoff, acting manager of the FAA's Airports Division in New England, said in an April 27 letter to Lantigua. "The FAA therefore requests documentation demonstrating the airport is adequately staffed and serviced and that any budget cuts, current or proposed, do not adversely impact these requirements..."

Airport Manager Michael Miller referred questions about spending and safety at the airport to Lantigua. Lantigua did not respond for comment.

Robert Nunes, the overseer who is monitoring Lawrence's budget for the state, said the airport revenue that ended up in this year's budget was "a small amount." He responded to a request for details by saying the issue has been resolved.

"We talked to the FAA and they suggested we move to an enterprise fund and the mayor accepted their recommendation and I'm glad to see the council supported it," Nunes said. "So there are no longer any issues with the FAA."

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