Fire District #1 officials are not pleased with the new lease that has been presented to them for Fire Station 121 at 490 New Century Parkway. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Terms of a proposed new lease between Johnson County Airport Commission (JCAC) and Fire District #1 (FD1), for the fire station at New Century, were discussed at the June 28 JCAC monthly meeting. Lee Harris, JCAC vice chairman and Michael Moore, JCAC commission member, participated by phone to make a quorum.
The commission considered a draft lease agreement with Fire District #1 for the fire station at 490 New Century Parkway.
Station 121 was built in 1997, financed by general obligation bonds with a 20 year term. With the completion of bond payments coming in September 2017, JCAC is now considering a new lease arrangement. JCAC owns the land and building.
When it was built, the FAA required a fire station on the airport grounds. That is not a requirement today, however another FAA directive, that does now apply, is that all leases must be for fair market value.
The new lease would charge the fire district $71,304 per year, payable in monthly installments of $5,942 for the first three years of its five year term. The final two years would be adjusted to changes in the Midwest Consumer Price Index.
Fire District officials and Mike Brown, county commissioner district 6, are not pleased with the lease.
“I will tell you that the direction and the tone that this has taken with our fire department does not make me comfortable. It does not please me, I don’t like it,” Brown told JCAC commission members.
Brown said he believed the fire district had been given a “take it or leave it’ offer,” with no room for negotiation.
JCAC’s position is that this is a straightforward business negotiation, and they have no choice but to comply with the FAA requirement to charge fair market value.
“As you know, we have some strings attached to our negotiation process by […] the FAA” said Brad Weisenberger, JCAC chairman.
An item in the lease terms states that FD1 is responsible for all repairs and maintenance to keep the property in good repair.
FD1 requested that JCAC assume that responsibility under the new lease.
“When you rent a house, you don’t ask the renters to fix stuff,” said Rob Kirk, FD1 fire chief.
Kirk explained that the request refers to major structural maintenance and repairs, not minor things like plumbing and routine maintenance.
No commission members spoke in favor of granting that request, citing they did not do that for any other tenants and were concerned with setting precedent by making an exception.
“We’ve got FAA regulations we’ve got to comply with, while at the same time, we want to be good landlords and good neighbors and take care of our first responders. Seems to me to be kind of a fine line we have to walk. I’m concerned with setting precedent for our commercial side,” said Michael Moore, commission member, by phone.
Brown noted the fire district is not like commercial tenants, being an intergovernmental not for profit entity.
“I see this being a very different tenant than any of the other commercial for-profit tenants. This to me is a different deal,” Brown said.
Moore said he didn’t think the FAA differentiates between commercial and non-commercial operations.
According to FD1, the district has been making rent or lease type payments prior to this and also has spent more than $480,000 in repairs and improvements during its residency. Fire District officials believed that when the bond was completed they would own the property and because of that, considered these payments and expenses as an investment in ownership.
All of this has created some tension between the entities.
“Originally, our board talked about if maybe we wanted to move if this didn’t work out. The next thing we get was,”well if you move, we’ll put Olathe in there,” and I’ve got to be honest with you, when you play Olathe against us, that was in our opinion, not a good relationship or foster what [the relationship] we want to have,” said Rob Kirk, fire chief.
Kirk said FD1 does not want to move and never has. The thought comes now as FD1 has to weigh paying $72,000 a year for a station, plus all upkeep, for a station they won’t ever own, versus investing in property they would own.
Previous to this meeting, FD1 asked if they could purchase the New Century station for the appraised value and were declined.
After discussion, the commission decided to go with the lease as written but for a one year term instead of five.
“I move we do a one year lease on the terms that we proposed and proceed to evaluate the cost of maintenance and repair, with the understanding that if we move that direction, it will increase the lease payments,” said Lee Harris, vice chairman, motioned by phone.
The motion was seconded and carried with a 3-1 vote. Moore was the nay vote.