WINCHESTER — Winchester Regional Airport Authority Chairman Gene Fisher wants a member from the Frederick County Board of Supervisors added to the airport authority’s board of directors to improve communication between the two boards.
Airport authority member Robert Bearer announced on Thursday during a meeting that he is resigning from his position. The nine-member Winchester Regional Airport Authority, which is its own government entity, represents Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Warren and Shenandoah counties. Authority members are appointed by the locality they represent. Bearer is one of Frederick County’s four representatives on the airport authority’s board of directors.
“This will be my last meeting,” Bearer told the other authority board members. “I’ve given Gene my letter of resignation, so at the end of the month I’m no longer with the authority. It was nice working with all of you, I’ve had a good time. But it’s time to move on.”
For the past few months, the Airport Authority has strongly opposed a decision made by the Board of Supervisors to significantly increase the county’s aircraft tax. The supervisors voted April 11 to increase the tax on aircraft weighing under 20,000 pounds from 1 cent per $100 of assessed value to 50 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The tax on aircraft weighing more than 20,000 pounds will remain 1 cent per $100 of assessed value.
The increase, proposed by Back Creek District Supervisor Gary Lofton, was done as a way of generating revenue for the county. However, the airport authority board members are concerned the tax increase could drive away existing airport tenants and scare off new ones.
Fisher previously served as the Shawnee District representative on the Board of Supervisors. He left the position on Dec. 31.
“You see, I was the board member for many years, and it made me very easy for me to communicate with the board [of supervisors],” Fisher told the Star after the meeting. “But now, I think there’s a gap because I don’t see those folks all of the time.”
While serving as supervisor, Fisher was able to provide the other supervisors insight into the operations of Winchester Regional Airport and was able to convince them that raising the airport tax was a bad idea.
“Mr. Lofton would bring it up, but I would challenge him and I’d give him the reasons,” Fisher said. “This year, there wasn’t anyone there.”
He says the airport tax increase is already harming the reputation of the airport.
“It’s crazy,” Fisher said. “I had another authority chairman call me two months ago. He was at a dinner meeting and there was an aircraft broker who was there actively soliciting for Manassas, Leesburg. In the comments he said ‘you do not want to go to Winchester with their tax rate.’ That’s bad when folks are out there saying ‘don’t go to us because of our tax rate.’”
Fisher has hope that the communications between the supervisors and the airport authority will improve, and that the tax increase can be reversed at some point.
Also at the meeting, airport director Nicholas Sabo announced that the airport has been offered a $222,000 federal grant for a project that will demolish four airport-owned buildings on Bufflick Road. The demolition is part of the first phase of a project that will relocate the airport’s taxiway 100 feet south. A taxiway connects the runway to the apron, hangars and other facilities to provide a path for aircraft.
The taxiway is being moved to meet revised Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards that say 400 feet of space needs to be between the taxiway and the airport so that large aircraft don’t hit each other. Sabo previously said that National Abatement and Wrecking LLC with $137,510 is the low bidder.
Sabo said the federal grant will cover 90 percent of the project’s cost. Two percent of the project will be paid for by Frederick County and Winchester, and 8 percent needs to be paid for through state funds. Sabo said the airport won’t accept the federal grant until it also gets the state’s participation.
The airport hopes to secure state funding next week, during the Virginia Aviation Conference. At that meeting, the Virginia Aviation Board will allocate capital funds.
If both state and federal funding is secured, Sabo says the demolition project could start near the end of this year, or early 2019.
Attending the Winchester Regional Airport Authority meeting at the airport terminal were Chairman Gene Fisher, Vice Chairman Paul Anderson and members Robert Bearer, Bill Pifer, Frank Haun and Dave Reichert. J.J. Smith, Archie Fox and John Crawford were absent.
— Contact Josh Janney at email@example.com