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Fee waiver approved for airport business

Originally published: Aug. 16, 2013
Last modified: Aug. 16, 2013

Adam Orr

Ashe County Board of Commissioners approved on Aug. 5 an $1,800 fee waiver to help local business owner John Greer continue to provide needed services to Ashe County Airport pilots and customers.

The waiver covers an airport hangar rental fee for a one year period, according to Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell.

Greer, who provides maintenance, aerial photography and flight instruction services at Ashe County Airport, has currently leased two hangars, including a private hangar from Marvin Stump and a county-owned hangar that is set to roll off its 20-year lease this month.

“Greer has a ground lease for $1 per year, that is up this year as of Aug. 1,” Mitchell told commissioners. “He rents Marvin Stump’s hangar for $1,800 per year. If he comes off the 20-year lease and starts the annual lease, then he would be paying $3,600 per year in hangar leases out there.”

Mitchell said the Ashe County Airport Advisory Board is concerned that the hangar fee increase could make business cost prohibitive for Greer, leaving the airport without essential services, including aircraft inspection and repair services, Federal Aviation Administration required bi-annual “checkrides,” aerial photography services and basic flight instruction.

“We’re not granting free rent to an individual, but rather providing a facility for a business to provide basic aircraft maintenance, aircraft rental and flight instructions, all of which are provided by minimums for airport services as listed in the airport rules and regulations and minimum standards for airport service providers,” according to an email to commissioners from Airport Advisory Board Chairman George Morrison. “Ashe County cannot and should not provide these services, but we should consider them essential if the airport is to remain viable.”

Morrison said the airport advisory board feels that, if Greer was no longer to provide these services, no one would do so.

“It is very unlikely that someone else would come in to set up a business where very little demand exists,” Morrison said. “It is sort of like having an airport with no fuel available. People stop coming in.”

Ashe County Commissioner Gerald Price said he is against setting a precedent that could be used to seek future fee waivers, but said state and county taxpayers are putting a significant amount of money into the runway extension at Ashe County Airport.

“It’ll hopefully generate more traffic and more stationary aircraft that will call Ashe County home,” Price said. “So I’d certainly be in favor of some kind of monetary incentive for Mr. Greer’s services that he renders at the airport for the convenience and hopefully encouraging those pilots to come back and stay with us on a permanent basis. I don’t want those planes going all the way back down to Wilkesboro after extending that runway.”

Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe said the airport hangar fees were originally set up to make sure the situation was fair to all parties involved, including county taxpayers who must pay for airport maintenance. Poe also compared the situation to allowing a business owner to use any other county owned building to set up a business for $1 per year.

“We’ve heard all about what the airport is contributing (in terms of economic development) but we also have to consider what county taxpayers are paying to help support that airport,” Poe said. “Yes, he is providing a service to people coming in to the county with airplanes, but I think he should have to pay a rent like what he would pay if he was off the airport property, or not in a county property. I just disagree with this.”

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.