March 18, 2016
Hangars are ready, paperwork isn't
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Jim Spaller, of 7:47 Aviation at the Cortland County Airport, stands Thursday in his hangar, which houses nine aircraft.
CORTLANDVILLE — Jim Spaller gestures out across his hangar at the Cortland County Airport: Nine planes, only two are his.
“With the right configuration, I can fit 10,” he said Wednesday. But he’ll spend hours trying to figure it out.
A hundred yards away, eight brand-new county hangars lie empty. They’ve been empty since their completion in January. And they’ll stay empty until county lawmakers can approve new lease rates and a new lease agreement. And in the meantime, the county loses up to $2,220 a month in revenue.
The rates won the backing of the county Highway Committee this week, but a pair of lease agreements — one long-term and one short- — didn’t fare as well.
“Our T-hangars are full,” Highway Superintendent Philip Krey told the committee Tuesday. “And I hear we’re a great county to work with. Part of that is we make it simple.”
The old agreement is a simple month-to-month lease arrangement that County Attorney Karen Howe says provides insufficient protection to the county. Her proposal is for a 12-month lease with a 5 percent surcharge for paying in quarterly installments and a 10 percent surcharge for paying monthly.
More complex — complex enough that it would likely cost the county some tenants, said pilot Pat Snyder, a local attorney and member of the county’s Airport Advisory Committee.
“I came to ask why these beautiful new hangars are sitting empty,” Snyder told the committee, then he got a gander at the proposed lease. “I see no reason to mess with the existing lease.”
“The current leases are a decade old and they’re terrible,” Howe said. She had said in February that her office has to go through extra administrative work for a monthly payment that it could avoid with an annual lease.
Krey, like Snyder, worries that tenants who use the county airport for only part of the year — perhaps snowbirds who winter in the South — will be stuck paying a full year’s lease.
A short-term lease to cover periods up to 14 days was floated, but the rates would be 25 percent greater than the 12-month lease.
It’s something Spaller can appreciate, although his business, 747 Aviation, has a five-year lease and a much larger hangar.
“If they had to pay six months or eight months for a hangar they’re not using, they’d look elsewhere,” Spaller said. “I would venture to guess you would find preference all across the board.”
What makes the airport so attractive, Spaller said is how easy and pleasant it is to use. “Ease of operations, better facilities, better care of the airport — all that,” he said. “It could snow a foot overnight and by 8 o’clock the airport will be clear to use. That’s something a lot of places don’t have.”
But what was sticking in Snyder’s craw is that nobody asked the pilots what they wanted. A 2012 county law requires lease negotiations by the airport manager and highway committee to be put before the Airport Advisory Committee for review: “It seems to me you’re ignoring your own local law.”
“They ought to be listened to,” said Legislator Richard Bushnell (D-Cortland).
“It might be nice to hear from the advisory committee before now,” Howe said.
Neither Snyder, nor any other member of the committee, knew about the new lease until Snyder came to the meeting to see what was holding up use of the hangars. “I thought the county attorney’s office would know what the local laws were,” he said.
The new lease rates — a $10 monthly increase for the single-engine hangars and $310 for twin-engine hangars — wasn’t a problem for Snyder. The lease terms were.
“The new lease is to protect the county,” Howe said.
Highway Committee Chairman Charles Sudbrink (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor, Willet) offered a compromise: Use the new rates, but graft them onto the existing lease language.
“What’s wrong with this lease?” Howe asked, gesturing to the new lease in front of her. “Let’s fix it.”
Legislators didn’t want to wait.
“I’d like to get these hangars leased,” Sudbrink said, and moved to use the new rates with the old language — at least until a new lease agreement is drafted and acceptable to pilots. That motion passed unanimously, even before wording had been worked out.
The plan is to send the new rates to the full legislature for a vote later this month, with the new rates to start April 1.
Which is great by Spaller. Some of the plane owners in his hangar would rather take county space than pay him.
“Those things are ready to move in,” Spaller said. “The county is throwing away $1,000 a month, easy.”
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