Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Taxpayers footing the bill for wealthy airplane owners

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The Aug. 22 article, ‘‘Airpark has been running a deficit for two years,” was brilliant for exposing how the county airpark is losing money and costing taxpayers a half million dollars per year.

However, the article misleads us to believe that the half million-dollar taxpayer subsidy is a temporary shortfall as a result of the decrease in the number of flights since Sept. 11, 2001. The deficit has nothing to do with the volume of flights. It is structural and permanent.

Financial statements for years other than the two sampled for the article will show that the airpark’s deficit precedes 2001, and is permanent. Why? Because use of the airpark is a courtesy the taxpayers provide for free to owners of private planes without remuneration.

The county’s only source of revenue from the airpark is rent it collects from a few businesses that operate there and lease office and warehouse space. Other airports charge landing fees.

Also, operating the airpark at a loss puts the county in violation of its legal obligations to the Federal Aviation Administration under the FAA’s recent $30 million grant for runway improvements.

Under the Airport Assurances conceded to the FAA, No. 24 on page 10 states, the Revenue Authority ‘‘will maintain a fee and rental structure for the facilities and services at the airport which will make the airport as self-sustaining as possible.” Costing the taxpayers a half million dollars per year does not meet any respectable definition of self-sustaining.

Other airports in the state charge landing fees to fund their operations. If the airpark were so indispensable to private and corporate flight beneficiaries, then surely these users would not object to paying for this value they receive, instead of expecting the taxpayers to pick up the bill.

If the airpark were to adopt the typical landing fee used by other airports of this size and charge even a minimal $2 per thousand pounds of landing weight, it could easily break even without burdening users.

It’s time for the Revenue Authority to stop giving wealthy plane owners a free ride at taxpayer expense, and to honor their contractual obligations to the FAA by implementing landing fees.

Brian Benhaim, Montgomery Village