Cd’A officials postpone airport fee hike decision

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(BRIAN WALKER/Press) Chris Walsh, center, of Harrison, speaks to Kootenai County commissioners on Tuesday during a public hearing on proposed airport lease hike proposals at the county’s Administration Building.

COEUR d'ALENE — For now, lease rates at the Coeur d'Alene Airport remain grounded.

Kootenai County commissioners on Tuesday held off on making a decision on a proposal to raise the private lease rate from 18.8 cents per square foot per year to 22 cents.

Elsbeth Roach, a pilot and a member of the nonprofit Coeur d'Alene Airport Association that supports events at the airport, proposed putting the decision on a six-month hold so association members and others could digest it and have more time to comment.

However, commissioners agreed to revisit the proposal within 45 days on a date to be determined to take additional comments and continue deliberations. Commissioners Chris Fillios and Bob Bingham supported continuing the discussion at a later date, while Marc Eberlein opposed the motion.

"This blind-sided us," Roach told commissioners during the public hearing. "There are many ways to bring sustainability to the airport (besides raise lease rates). I think we need more time to present more information so everyone feels the opportunity to be a part of it and give input.

"You're dumping sustainability on the backs of the little guys."

The proposal, among multiple fee hikes proposed at the airport, comes on the heels of a Federal Aviation Administration-funded study aimed at making the airport more sustainable and five months of meetings by the Airport Advisory Board.

Airport director Steven Kjergaard said the annual budget for the airport is about $1 million. The amount generated from the more than 100 leases on the field and other revenue is about $700,000, leaving roughly $300,000 on the shoulders of taxpayers, Kjergaard said.

If the increase proposals are approved by the commissioners, they'd still fall a little short of making the airport completely sustainable, but it would bring the facility much closer to that point, he said. He said most airports such as Coeur d'Alene are not 100 percent self-sustainable.

Kjergaard said while it's the goal of the FAA to make the Coeur d'Alene Airport sustainable, it's not a requirement.

"If we don't change the fees after the FAA paid for the study, they'll likely begin to ask questions about why we can't be as sustainable as we can," he said, adding that keeping the status quo on fees could jeopardize FAA funding for uses such as land purchases in the future.

Kjergaard said the proposed rates would make Coeur d'Alene comparable to Felts Field in Spokane, which is what the study considered a similar airport in the region.

Kjergaard and commissioners said that in conjunction with the lease hike proposal, making leases fair in comparison with each other will need to be addressed over the next five years as lease renewals come up.

One lease in particular under scrutiny is that of the Coeur d'Alene Skeet and Trap Club. Some figured it could rise from less than a thousand dollars per year to $183,000 if the entire 23 acres were considered.

However, Kjergaard on Tuesday clarified that the club is paying different rates for the land that's exclusively used by the club and the portion that is considered non-exclusive. He said the club is currently paying similar rates to other tenants for both categories, and he said the group shouldn't have to fear such a drastic jump in its lease.

Eberlein said one skeet member told him on Tuesday that the club would go under if such a lease hike would occur.

Kjergaard said each lease at the airport varies, but there are also limits on how much they can be raised per year.

The goal, he said, is to make the rates more equitable for all of the users as leases are reviewed and re-negotiated while making the airport as self-sustainable as possible.

Chris Walsh, a pilot from Harrison, said he's not opposed to a lease increase to make the airport more sustainable, but he believes smaller increments would be easier to swallow.

"It's too large of an increase at one time," he said.

Murdo Cameron, vice president of the Coeur d'Alene Airport Association, said he supports putting a decision on hold.

"We were caught pretty flat-footed by this," he said. "I don't think we were adequately notified of the proposal."

Advisory board meetings are open to the public, but it was noted during Tuesday’s meeting that the proposal should be placed on the airport's website.

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