County and Airport Solve Rent Dispute

Commission Chairman Forges Accord Over Complicated Issues of Rent; Long-term Leases Planned

By JAMES KINSELLA

A long-running rent dispute between Dukes County and the Martha's Vineyard Airport dissolved Wednesday in an amicable resolution.

Airport commissioners used a letter prepared by fellow commissioner and county commission chairman John S. Alley as a blueprint to spell out when and where rent would be paid by the county or its agencies, and where the county would use airport property essentially rent-free.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rental schedule and to send it along to their attorneys at Palmer and Dodge in Boston en route to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA has been pressing the airport to charge rent to its tenants - even the county, which owns the airport. The issue has been a bone of contention between the county and airport commissioners since the federal agency first raised the issue, about five years ago.

"Finally, we get some resolution to this," said airport commission chairman Jesse Law 3rd.

Airport commissioner Leslie Leland, who also is a county commissioner, voted for the plan, but not without expressing reservations.

"Personally, I hate the idea of paying rent for a county function," Mr. Leland said. "It's double-dipping."

While commercial businesses who are tenants at the airport can raise their prices to meet higher rents, he said, the county doesn't have that flexibility.

Other commissioners seemed relieved that a resolution to the dispute was at hand.

"Now that we've got the numbers, let's be done with it," commissioner T.J. Hegarty said. "We can finally leave the emotion out of it, and give the FAA facts and figures."

The county commissioners may join the airport commission in a joint letter of support to the FAA to help move the matter more quickly through the process.

Mr. Alley's proposal applies certain commercial rent guidelines at the airport to a number of county operations while exempting others.

County manager E. Winn Davis said Mr. Alley's letter achieved its breakthrough in a couple of ways.

He said the letter tapped into a commercial rent survey of airport tenants recently completed by assistant airport manager Sean Flynn. Mr. Davis said the survey gave the commissioners and the county hard numbers as a baseline for county rents.

Also the letter took the concept that the county, like other long-time airport tenants, should qualify for rent adjustments every two years, rather than annual increases.

In adopting Mr. Alley's letter, the commissioners agreed to:

* Adopt a policy of a consumer price index assessment, already in force with commercial tenants at the airport, toward government units. The assessment will be adjusted every two years. The index, prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and commonly known as CPI, will be based on the rate of inflation for the Boston/Brockton/Nashua, N.H. region.

Airport tenants such as Keyland Kitchens, Vineyard Tennis Center and Cars Unlimited already have the CPI assessment written into their contracts.

* Charge the county a land rent for the county administration building going back to fiscal year 2001. The rent will start at 27.55 cents per square foot in that fiscal year, and be adjusted every two years per the consumer index adjustment. The rate will rise to 29.43 cents per square foot starting in fiscal year 2003, and to 31.41 cents per square foot in the current fiscal year.

That translates into an annual rent payment of $6,461 for fiscal year 2001, rising to $7,367 this fiscal year.

By charging rent for just the land, the airport commission recognizes that the county owns the building and can move it off the property if it wishes.

Starting this year, the airport also will charge the county 14 cents per square foot for the parking lot around the administration building, the same rate as for the lot at the nearby Hot Tin Roof nightclub. That will bring in a payment of $840.

Added together, the total now due from the county for the administration building is $42,301.

The lease would run for 99 years from the date of occupancy.

* Support an exemption for the county communication center. Sheriff Michael McCormack and the airport commission previously agreed to relocate the center from its current building. After the center moves, the airport will use the building for its own operations.

If the FAA does not support the exemption, the airport will ask the sheriff to include a rental payment in his budget for the coming fiscal year.

* Adopt a land rent for the county corrections center of 11.48 cents per square foot, starting in the prior fiscal year. The total now due will be $3,152. The building, now under construction, will be used to provide services to people guilty of criminal offenses who do not need to be incarcerated or who have completed their jail time.

* Exempt the ropes course from rent, as the course is available for public community use.

* That the land rent value of a future county jail at the airport will be determined upon signing a lease for a period of 99 years from the date of occupancy. The rent will be adjusted every two years based on the consumer index.