Commissioners vote for appraisal of airport

Move occurs during search for an operator

October 09, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Hoping to wring a profit from Carroll County Regional Airport, the commissioners voted yesterday to hire an appraiser to determine its value - information they called critical to their plans for hiring a suitable operator for the county-owned property.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he wanted to negotiate a lease rate for the entire property, including seven new corporate hangars that the county expects to rent this year. The request for proposal asks for a business plan for operating all airport buildings, including the terminal and hangars.

"This is a valuable, leasable property," said Dell.

The airport, along Route 97 north of Westminster, posted a $15,000 loss last year, and this year does not bode well for improved revenues, officials said. The new 10,000-square-foot hangars - two are leased - will cost $4 million before they are ready for tenants this year. The county expects to charge each hangar tenant $5,000 a month and reap $420,000 annually.

Steven Powell, county director of management and budget, said his office would identify the county's share of the costs for every improvement made at the airport in the past 20 years. But the economic development potential of the facility is difficult to ascertain, he said.

The county is enmeshed in legal sparring that could delay any change in airport management. Rick and Bonnie Jones have operated the airport since May, when longtime operator June Poage died. The couple said they have a valid contract to lease the terminal and the small hangars that runs through June 2004.

"We asked for 30 days to present our plan," said David Johnson, attorney for the Joneses. "Why would the commissioners want to start with somebody new when they have people who have been involved for years?"

The commissioners voted last week to advertise the position, although they urged the couple to apply for the job. The board had expected those ads to run in area newspapers today, but Johnson filed an appeal with the county Purchasing Department yesterday to halt the bidding process.

"Advertising should stop until the appeal runs its course, and that could be to the Circuit Court," Johnson said. "My clients have authorized me to take every legal action in this matter."

Rich Shelton, county director of purchasing, said the appeal forced him to cancel the ad.

"We are not advertising the bid at this time," Shelton said. "The request for proposal is on hold."

If that appeal fails, Johnson said he might ask the court for an injunction that would prevent the commissioners from hiring another operator.

Dell and Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier outvoted Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge on the issue. Gouge said she is satisfied with how the Joneses are handling the airport and that she is willing for them to continue with their contract.

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