A BRAND NEW DAY

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Quite a few sports events have been decided by a late timeout.

We may soon find out how that works in business — specifically, in regard to a proposed rate change for leaseholders at Coeur d’Alene Airport.

Plenty of pilots and others involved in aviation are waving frantically to call time.

They want to talk.

The issue heading toward some final determination is a proposal in front of the Board of County Commissioners that would raise the top private lease rate from 18.8 cents per square foot to 22 cents.

A seven-year-old organization, the Coeur d’Alene Airport Association — not to be confused with the airport’s official advisory board — wants an immediate delay to this bump in lease rates, along with a thorough study to determine whether the increase is needed, or even fair.

WHEN THEY began checking with each other and asking for lease information on various tenants, leaseholders discovered that not only were they paying different rates but that in some cases, the difference was enormous.

They particularly zeroed in on the southeast corner of the airport property, where there are no aviation-related tenants.

However, the search did turn up the Coeur d’Alene Skeet and Trap Club, which has been in that location since the 1970s, is very popular among hundreds of the area’s shooters — but whose 2009 lease on a whopping 23 acres continues to cost less than two cents per square foot.

If the Skeet and Trap group got dinged for the market rate being considered by the county, its current yearly bill of less than a thousand dollars would jump to more than $183,000.

In that same area, the long-tenured Panhandle Area Council has a building it leases for a dollar per year.

PLENTY OF people involved in this saga will be present today when the commission meets at 2 p.m.

“All we want is for the commissioners, the advisory board and everyone else to step back, take six months or so to look at everything here — and especially, to give the various stakeholders in this thing a chance to come to the table,” said Frank O’Connell, who has been flying out of Coeur d’Alene Airport for 28 years.

O’Connell both owns and leases hangars at the facility.

“There’s a feeling now among many people who lease hangars that the commissioners have set on this course of making the airport self-sustaining, and they just decided the easiest way is to bump up rates on tenants who are already paying the most,” O’Connell said.

County Commissioner Marc Eberlein said he sees the protest coming, and insisted that, in a way, he welcomes it.

“Believe me, we want to find out how these long-established tenants feel, and hear what they know,” he said.

“We all know how the county continues to grow. We have a master plan for the airport, because it’s a key economic driver for the future.

“The things being brought up here should be discussed — and certainly, there has to be some talk about that southeast corner of the airport property.”

ONE MORE shadow that could be hanging over proceedings is whether or not the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will continue to allow what appears to be a breach of its own guidelines.

Airports that receive federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, like Coeur d’Alene, must adhere to FAA rules.

One of those mandates is that no one can receive preferential treatment.

There is evidence that the Skeet and Trap Club’s unique situation was accepted by the FAA several years ago, but the airport was under the umbrella of the Seattle office then as opposed to a center in Helena, Mont., at the moment.

Meanwhile, raising rates while the shooting club gets nicked for little or nothing, and the Panhandle Area Council spends a buck per year while the Kootenai County Humane Shelter pays the top market rate, well...

Pardon a bad pun, but it may not fly.

Within the last few weeks, the FAA lowered the boom on an airport in Tehachapi, Calif., near Bakersfield, for charging various rates and giving out breaks — and threatened to cut off its grant money.

Sound familiar?

Overall, there might be enough reasons here for the county to stop and revisit this entire situation.

The Airport Association hopes to call that timeout today.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press. Please reach Steve at: scameron@cdapress.com.

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