Tuesday, June 29, 2004
City Audit Could Raise Airport Rent
By Erin Musgrave
The Hollister (CA) Free Lance
Community Pantry may have to leave the building it has occupied for the past 15 years if a planned audit of rents at the Hollister Municipal Airport results in higher rates, according to the Pantry’s executive director. The Pantry, which receives food and monetary donations and then delivers bags filled with grocery staples to needy families every week, has been exempt from rent because of its nonprofit status, said Executive Director Tom Larkin.
“We have a hell of a time making our budget now. If they want to charge rent we’d have to leave,” said Executive Director Tom Larkin. “Does the city have $1,280,000 to feed the people that we do?”
The audit, which will determine if the airport’s 15 business tenants are paying the market rate for rents as regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), would come after the city recruits a new full-time airport manager to oversee daily operations, according to the city manager.
Because the FAA helps support the airport financially, if it regulates that all businesses on airport land must pay rent, the City Council may have to charge the Community Pantry regardless, said Councilman Robert Scattini said.
“I’m not looking forward to charging Community Pantry but we may not have a choice or we won’t get money from the Feds,” he said. “If we can get by without charging them we will, but it will be up to the whole City Council.”
The current market rate is 26 cents per square foot, according to current airport manager Allen Ritter.
At that rate the Community Pantry would have to pay over $9,000 a year in rent – an amount the Pantry can’t afford, Larkin said.
“What are they trying to prove here? The airport will not get the city out of its financial difficulties by charging rent out here,” he said. “If they blow it too much they’re gonna lose people. I don’t understand the reasoning.”
Much of the inefficiency with rents and other issues at the airport has been a result of not having a full-time airport manager, which is causing the city to forfeit profits, Scattini said.
“I have a gut feeling there’s money out there not being collected from the whole airport,” he said. “When we get a full-time manager and go business by business in every aspect of evaluating the airport, we’re going to find out we’re losing money. It needs a complete overhaul.”
Scattini is unsure how much money the city could be losing, he said.
Part-time manager Allen Ritter has managed the airport over the past year, but now that the city has enough money in its enterprise fund to pay the approximately $83,000 annual manager’s salary the city manager has begun the recruitment process, Scattini said.
Ritter, who was the full-time manager for 15 years before he retired in October of 2002, came back part-time last year, he said.
“There really should be a full-time manager here to handle all the duties,” Ritter said. “I think I’ve been keeping up pretty well, but a full-time manager will have more duties than I do right now.”
The city considered hiring a full-time manager last year, but did not feel it had the money to do so, Scattini said.
“It would have been slim,” he said. “We possibly could have skated by, but we weren’t really comfortable with the money. We thought we would wait another year to see what the finances are.”
City Manger Clint Quilter will begin recruiting from a list of candidates the city compiled last year when the city briefly considered hiring a full-time manager.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to go through the previous list yet, but it will be no sooner than after the budget goes through in mid-July,” Quilter said. “If the people on the list appear qualified I’ll interview them and make a selection.”
If, for some reason, the candidates are not available or do not meet the city’s qualification requirements, a new list will have to be formed, which would slow the process, he said.
The city should have a manager chosen sometime in the next few months and very soon after will begin the auditing process, Quilter said.