Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City Aviators tell Lake City: Raise the rates to the stratosphere; we're flying out of here.

Local aviator Scott Middleton address Assistant City Manager, Grayson Cason during last night's Airport Committee meeting, as the area's local aviators and the Airport Committee listen. Mr. Cason is in the blue shirt (seated far left) and Airport Manager Nick Harwell is on the far right.

By Stew Lilker

LAKE CITY, FL – It was a full house at the Lake City Airport Committee meeting last night as Lake City's local aviators weighed in with their thoughts regarding the proposed hanger lease rate increases at Lake City's municipal airport. Rates were thought to be going up from 25% to 300%. The local aviators, the backbone of the airport made it clear, if Lake City raised the rates to the stratosphere, they were flying out of there.

Assistant City Manager Grayson Cason began the discussion by comparing rates in local surrounding airports. Based on his analysis, he came up with a proposed combined commercial-general aviation lease rate of twenty cents a square foot.

Lake City Airport Committee chairman and City Councilman George Ward made sure everyone had the chance to weigh into the conversation.

Airport Committee Chairman George Ward said that the City should adjust the rate for corporate hangers downward. "I think it's over priced," he said.

Rate Study On The Way

The Cutter Group is doing a rate study for the Florida Department of Transportation, which will include hanger lease rates and non aviation airport lease sites.

William Schretzmann, a long time local aviator was not happy about the proposed rate increase. His suggestion to the Aviation Committee was simple – check with the folks that are using the airport.

Mr. Schretzmann said, "When it comes down to finding out what the real market value is I think it might be important that you consult what I consider the aviation experts locally."

FDOT representative Roland Luster said that the Cutter Group welcomes input.

Mr. Luster said, "Feel free to give them a call and voice your concerns."

Another local aviator told the Airport Committee that he had seen only one rate increase in 14 years and there hasn't been an increase in over 10 years. He said, "The airport must have been faring fairly well with the lease rates that we were paying."

He explained that the aviators that showed up for the meeting support the airport by buying fuel and maintenance services. He said, "We like the place."

Chairman Ward responded, "We appreciate that and we want to make it so that you continue to like it."

Local aviator Scott Middleton said he has been a tenant at Lake City's Airport for almost 25 years. He told the Committee that he made personal investments in his hanger of over $10,000. He said, "We've heard rumors of what the proposed rates would be. If you raise them up to that I think about half of us would leave. We'll find somewhere else to put our airplanes and with that our fuel sales will go with us." (click the speaker to listen to Mr. Middleton's remarks)

Chairman Ward responded: We need to go up a little bit on the small hangers. On the corporate hangers we're overpriced and need to come down to a reasonable number.

Airport Manager Nick Harwell did his homework

Airport Manager, Nick Harwell told the Committee that if the commercial rates came down and the corporate hangers were divided for smaller aircraft the hangers would be filled.

City Manager Wendell Johnson asked the local aviators if they thought the City's Airport Manager was correct. They backed up Airport Manager Harwell.

The Committee agreed to reduce corporate hanger rates from 22 cents a foot to 15.5 cents and all the other rates would be frozen until the Cutter Group came back with its rate study.

City Manager Johnson said the City was not intending to raise rates unreasonably. He said, "It was just meant to be numbers for consideration based on information that we thought was fair and reliable."

None of the Lake City aviators seemed to share the City Manager's sentiments.

Airport Manager Harwell told the Observer that he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. He said, "Mr. Ward and the Committee made a good decision. This is very positive and keeps the airport moving in the right direction."

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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