The Barrow County Airport Authority and county government remain at odds over storm water fees.
A few questions were answered during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting with input from members, authority attorney John Stell and county commissioner Joe Goodman who also attended the meeting. But in regards to how much of the storm water bill the authority should have to pay, the answer is still up in the air.
“There’s a lot more questions than there are answers, authority chairman Scott Miller said at the close of the discussion. “We need to figure out the best solution for both the county and the airport.”
Miller said as well that the best solution would not involve the authority paying all of the $4,255 bill for the years 2010-2012 charged to the airport itself (Miller did note that the $766.47 fees charged to a house on Giles Road that the authority owns was a legitimate bill). The total bill for all four properties the airport owns, including the airport itself, is $6,137.26.
After initially receiving the bill days before the December meeting and discussing it as well at that meeting, the authority Tuesday presented its case that it should not be responsible for at least a portion of the money the county is claiming the authority owes for storm water fees.
Goodman countered by providing more information and background on the fees, including the fact that it is not a tax, but he was sympathetic to the authority with some of its concerns.
Two of the major concerns that the authority has with the bill are:
More than 75 percent of the bill for the airport property ($3,595) is back taxes, although Miller said
The airport has provided its own general maintenance of its retention ponds, aside from one maintenance visit by the county, since the billing began and has actually paid the county $1,400 for the service. Routine maintenance services are meant to be provided at no cost by the county as part of paying the fee.
Stell said that, if the county would back off the late fees and credit the airport the $1,400 it has spent in maintenance costs, the past bill would be around $2,000 and bills going forward $900 or less per year, which would be fair.
Goodman said he had not heard about the late fees being assessed until just then.
Stell noted that on another issue – the county including airport parking lots in the first year but not after that – the county already said it would not negotiate to bring down the costs of the first year to not include the parking lots.
But authority members had other issues about paying the fee at all.
“I don’t see why we would pay the county when we have to get federal funds to repair (the pond), when the county can’t even repair it,” said member Teeny Allison. “If we have to maintain it for FAA, and that’s what the county bills us for, I don’t know why we should have to pay it.”
The issue, as airport engineer consultant Phil Eberly noted, is that the airport is already required to maintain and provide repairs to any retention or detention ponds according to the FAA, which provides funds to accomplish that.
It’s a unique situation in the county, and it’s unique for an airport with a similar management structure to Barrow County’s to have to pay storm fees at all.
Airport Manager Wanda Mitchell produced a list of the 12 airports in the state of Georgia with similar management structure and revealed that just two had to pay any storm water fees at all. One of those, Perry, was charged $200 per month in the water bill and Jackson County paid $1,600 per year with the county providing clean up of the drainage areas.
Beyond that, Miller noted how much the airport has provided the county via ad valorem taxes on its aircraft based there.
“The authority has been diligent that hangars are filled with aircraft,” he said.
In 2010, the county collected $97,431.19 in ad valorem taxes, according to Miller, in 2011 over $56,600 and in 2012 $81,883.94.
Eberly noted that, with the improving economy, the number would be even higher for 2013.
Miller also brought up a 2011 economic impact study on the airport which listed 357 jobs created, $7.6 million in payroll and $18.5 million in economic output annually.
“We’re publically owned and we’re a public use airport,” Miller said. “My personal opinion: It’s being taxed for what the taxpayers are already paying for.”
The concept of charging residents and businesses outside the city limits storm water fees was first brought to a vote in 2008 as a way to assist residents who had until then had had responsibility to maintain any ponds and storm drains on their grounds.
“The people of Barrow accepted it,” Goodman said, “and the utility was put in place.”
The fee is charged according to how much impervious service is on the property, and provides for the county to undertake routine maintenance of storm water areas. Goodman noted that if the airport were to expand its pond in order to be able to support more hangars at the airport, that that would not be covered as it is not routine maintenance.
“These fees are in place to protect the quality of water in Barrow,” Goodman said.
The commissioner also invited the airport authority to bring its case about the storm water fees up at the next county commission meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Miller added at the close of the meeting that he was pleased to have Goodman attend the meeting in order that there could be a dialogue.