Our View: That won’t fly | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: That won’t fly

At issue

The city’s pending decision to forgive aircraft hangar tenants’ obligation to pay for outside maintenance

Our view

Shifting hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses over the next 40 years away from aircraft hangar owners and onto the general public is a bad flight plan

We find it regrettable that City Council has directed its legal staff to amend its lease with Aviation Development Group (ADG) to absolve it and its tenants of having to cover the cost of outside hangar maintenance, including snow removal. We fully expect that investment in time on the part of staff will have been squandered Tuesday when Council reconvenes. We think it likely that members, upon second reading, may change their minds and vote to enforce the city’s leases with hangar developers.

At issue

The city’s pending decision to forgive aircraft hangar tenants’ obligation to pay for outside maintenance

To do anything else would mean the city would pass the estimated $15,000 annual cost of landscaping, maintaining pavement and snow removal on to the people who pay sales taxes in the city and don’t own an airplane. Even if one assumes that maintenance costs outside the hangars won’t escalate with inflation, the city would still absorb an estimated $600,000 over the next 40 years from one hangar development alone.

But there are two different hangar developments involved in this decision, so the ultimate cost could be even greater.

City Council member Scott Myller summed it up nicely at the last council meeting when he asked the hangar developers what he should tell his “non airplane-owner friends in the community.”

To recap, Council voted March 17 to approve the lease change, but the change won’t become final until a second vote this week. The initial vote came after Council learned that the master ground lease with ADG calls for the developer to shoulder the cost of maintenance. However, neither ADG nor city staff realized that until after the lease was signed.

All we can conclude is that ADG is certainly experienced in executing ground leases with municipal airports and should have known what it was signing.

Steamboat Today reported Thursday that the situation was further complicated by the fact that another lease, in place for 12 years with a different hangar developer, also called for that developer to bear the cost of outside maintenance. But the city had mistakenly been taking on that expense for all those years. So let’s call the total bill for the city’s pending magnanimity a cool $1 million.

The manager for ADM observed that the city had set a “precedent” by failing to collect those monies. We would suggest instead that someone on the city staff erred in failing to enforce the provisions of the lease. And while it might be improper, not to mention difficult, for the city to pursue 12 years of missed revenues from the older hangar development, those revenues should be collected going forward.

In our view, if there’s a dangerous precedent about to be set, it has to do with the city’s consistency in collecting maintenance fees from private property owners around the community.

We believe the city’s obligation to taxpayers requires that it enforce its leases in the future. And while the municipal airport clearly plays a positive role in the local economy and hosts a critical emergency medical flight operation, we predict the average sales tax payer would have a difficult time relating the benefits of private airplane hangars to their own lives.

When the city attempted unsuccessfully to cut transit service to West Steamboat late last year, we were under the impression that the city administration was urgently seeking ways to find more room in its annual budget. Given that state of affairs, we can’t think of a reason why, after having time to think it over, Council would not reverse last week’s decision and enforce its leases with hangar developers.

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