Lynn Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
Local pilots and aviation enthusiasts voiced concerns to city council at their Nov. 23 meeting over the possible impact of amendments to the Gardner Municipal Code.
The city seeks to add an Aviation section known as Title 11 that defines the management of the airport, rules and regulations for safe and efficient operation of the airport and fees, charges and permissible activities. Additionally, they also wish to establish hangar rates for the Gardner Municipal Airport in 2016. The city takes over operational control on January 1, 2016.
Gary Mitchell, a pilot from Kansas City, Kan., said he had an issue with the hangar rates and higher rents and believes they are unrealistic.
“There’s some other options out there for leases,” he said. “I’m assuming you don’t know how airport management works around here. We aren’t Johnson County. We are a gem in the Gardner community. We may have limited amenities, but we have a lot of value to the community.”
Mitchell continued telling council members that he had done his math and that the percentages didn’t add up.
“When you get to those smaller increases it turns out to be the same percentages. 12.4 percent is not a small increase. It’s a lot,” he said. “We have limited information. Are there other solutions we can employ? It appears to be a knee-jerk reaction. How about a study with complete info before we raise rates.”
Brian Faust, public works director said that 95 Hangar places are all occupied with 83 people on the waiting list. “The city notified lease holders that their leases expire December 31,” he said. “A new lease is to be sent out in two weeks and subleases for hangars will be prohibited. There are currently 18 subleasing.”
As a subleaser, Mitchell told council members he hoped he’d still have an opportunity to be at the airport. “Let’s make it fair and equitable,” he said. “During the audit there were discrepancies, because Dale Rose, treasurer of the airport board, was fighting cancer in the hospital at the time.”
Jeff Sullins, a pilot from Kansas City, Mo., said he thinks a lot of people on the waiting list for hangars are camping out.
“I’d be surprised if there were more than 30 to 40 people who wanted a hangar,” he said. “I don’t think the need is there. Gardner’s not that type of airport. If we were New Century, Manhattan, Johnson County Executive, we’d stop being a benefit to the community. We want to be friends to the community.”
Mitchell said none of the issues were insurmountable. “To say there is no cost and no financial impact—it is going to have an economic impact,” he said. “I applaud what the city is doing in trying to take a hold of the internal controls, but let’s not unfairly raise the hangar rates.”
Dan Malian, an area pilot, said he felt like they’d been passed over in the deal. “I think you are overlooking a large resource in the Airport Board,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of trust in them since 1982. This is a second home to a lot of us.”
Sullins said he was concerned about the ban on certain types of aircraft. “An airport is open to use for any type of airplane. I don’t think it’s legal to ban certain types of crafts,” he said. “There’s some sections in here that need elaboration. We appreciate the support for new hangars and expansion and improvements, but I venture to say that these extra proposals aren’t on the master plan. I don’t know why we’re venturing away from the original plan.”
Faust said that city staff, the airport board and their consultant Brad Weisenberg with Professional Engineer Consultants reviewed surrounding airports. “It’s important to not outprice ourselves from the market,” he said. “We felt rates weren’t totally unrealistic. Increases in the airport will grow as improvements are needed.”
Mailan asked the council members when the Title 11 addition was notified to the airport board.
Faust said the board didn’t see the Title 11 addition. “We brought this to the board twice, and the only thing we heard was about insurance,” he said. “We are under time constraints. This is new to us. I encourage you to approve tonight and use this as a living document.”
Mailan said he disagreed. “I think it’d be nice to see it taken a step backwards to be looked at again and not voted on tonight.”
Council member Kristy Harrison said she understood a certain aspect is more operational than fundamental. “Can we implement under the code but hold on for the remaining,” she said.
Faust said the rate increases are less than what was recommended. “It’s critical to adopt Title 11 and important to have minimum standards,” he said. “It can be changed as time comes, but we need to go out with the new leases ASAP.”
Council President Steve Shute said he was concerned that the notices for ending the leases weren’t posted at the airport. “If you’re not a citizen of Gardner, you’re not a part of these board meetings,” he said. “That’s a problem. And will some of the rate increases go into maintenance restructuring?
Shute and Council Member Todd Winters said they should keep rates the same for a year as good faith. “
“I think we should go ahead and approve and make changes as things come up,” Winters said.
Council Member Lee Moore said he also felt the rates seem like a substantial increase.
“How do we justify what the formula is and the minimum standards for hangars, maintenance and upkeep,” he said. “We should leave rates the same this year and work on our formula and strategy going forward.”
Moore, also, had concern about the subleases. He said he favors the sublessee over the sublessor and wants to discourage subletting the hangars. “We want active pilots using the airport,” he said. “And I want to make sure that when we do get the letters out to those people and the dust settles, we actually take care of the folks operating out of the airport.”
Harrison said she wanted to know how many real lease holders weren’t going to continue with their leases. “I am not opposed to grandfathering the 18 (subletters) in and allow them to continue their leases into 2016,” she said.
Moore said 20 percent of the hangars are currently subletted. “It is a problem,” he said. “No turnover on the wait list is a problem.”
Mayor Chris Morrow said he wondered if the council should maybe table the proposed amendment. “I want to get this done before the end of the year,”
Bob Robinson, a pilot from Shawnee, Kan., told the council he had so many questions and loopholes. “I have been flying for 30 years and I am hearing proposals that I’ve never heard of in my life,” he said. “If you’re going to pass something than clean-up the mess, I’d make sure it’s straight to being with.”
Shute said the council needed to do their diligence. “We know things are going to change, but we need to make sure they are the right changes,” he said. “Gardner is a unique airport. We have some amenities, but we have the feel of a small aviation airport. We should hold off on minimum standards til we meet with the advisory board.”
Morrow said if they wanted to move forward and have minimum standards he suggested adopting the ordinance and amending and making changes later with the advisory board.
The Council struck out Rule 1-14 which would ban ultra-light aircraft, gliders and light sport aircraft and powered parachute without approval by the city and amending rules to commercial activity before passing the resolution.
Note: Council members also adopted a Growth Management Strategy for the next few years, amendments to the Fiscal 2015 and 2016 budgets with the debt service fund, park sales tax, airport operations and the half cent sales tax for infrastructure that came after the budgets had been approved and the creation of an Airport Fund.