The Linn County Commission on Monday, Feb. 5, discussed ways of restructuring management of the airport to reduce its tax burden. (Journal file photo)
By Charlene Sims, firstname.lastname@example.org
MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commissioners continued their discussion on how to start cutting costs at the airport on Monday, Feb. 5.
Assistant Public Works Director Jessica Hightower, who is in charge of airport management, told commissioners that there still had been no response from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) about what the county would owe the state if they decided to sell the airport. She did remind them that the only information that she had was that the county needed to remain public access for 10 years after they received the last grant.
The last grant was received in 2019, which would require the county to keep the airport open until 2029, said Jessica Hightower. Another issue that required information from KDOT was whether the county could go ahead and sell the precision approach path indicator (PAPI) lights that were purchased with the last grant.
The lights had never been installed. When the commissioners met with the airport board on Oct. 16, board member Clarence Easley pointed out that the lights had never been installed because they basically needed a longer runway to work correctly.
The lights would be positioned beside the runway to provide pilots with a visual indicator of their aircraft's position relative to the correct glide path for the runway.
At that October meeting Easley asked how did that box of PAPI lights end up on county property through a grant. Easley said that the installation of the PAPI lights would not be possible without planning and direction from an engineering company like Burns and McDonnell.
County Counselor Gary Thompson suggested that Jessica Hightower send a notice to the KDOT grant office that the county was going to sell the PAPI lights in 60 days unless we hear from them. Thompson said he would review the notice before it was sent.
McCullough asked Jessica Hightower to set up a meeting with the airport board. He said he thought that they might be able to help with the sale of the PAPI lights.
Commissioner Danny McCullough asked if the other commissioners were willing to keep the airport if Pleasanton waived the taxes and took care of the roads.
Commissioner Jim Johnson said that because there were school taxes to deal with he was not in favor of keeping the airport.
Commission Chair Jason Hightower said that he was for liquidating the airport if the county could do that in a feasible fashion.
Hightower questioned whether they could split the farm ground off to save and possibly sell it and pull the lots at the airport off of the market.
Thompson said that would be the county’s argument for asking for tax exemption but it is not a 100% guarantee that they would not have to pay taxes on the lots.
McCullough asked what it costs to maintain the airport.
Jessica Hightower said that they do not do a lot of maintenance except mowing around the airstrip, working on the lights if they go down and blading it if it snows.
She said the county also had a million dollar liability policy on the airport that cost the county $3,000 a year.
Commission Chair Hightower suggested just selling the hay ground around the airport.
Thompson said, “By eliminating the possibility of resale of the lots, that makes them part of our airport usage instead. We believe we can get a tax exemption on that then cuts out a big chunk of the extra cost.”
Discussion was then held on whether to buy back the lots that were already sold.
McCullough that if they did that, wouldn’t the city of Pleasanton be taxing them on those.
Thompson said if the county bought back the seven lots that have not been built on and take them off the market along with all the other lots, that leaves the lot that has been built on that we need to figure out if you want to buy it back. That would not include the owner’s improvements. Instead they would lease the land from the county.
Thompson said that is what most airports do. They lease the lot and then pilots build their hangars there. The tax code is set up so that the property can be leased for airport purposes and be tax exempt. However, if the county or city is offering lots for sale, they become a developer.
County Clerk David Lamb told the commissioners that the parcel that has basically 136 acres has the agricultural land. It also has a large portion of it that is listed as commercial. That’s where the main part of the county’s tax liability is.
Lamb said, “I think there was discussion at one point of splitting the hay ground out, because if leasing it out we’re still going to have to pay taxes on it, is that correct? But then maybe we could get the other part exempted. But there’s this year’s tax bill on that parcel is $37,000.
“Then there’s a whole bunch of lots with nothing on them. All the vacant lots that we still own, the tax bill on them is $428. It’s the part of the airport that is listed as commercial is where all our tax liabilities are.”
Commission Chair Hightower asked if that commercial property included the runway.
Lamb said that might be more of a question to ask the appraiser’s office. He did say the total valuation on that parcel of 136 acres was $146,000 valuation, and then the land part of it, there’s $32,105 that’s in that commercial category and then there’s $3,096 dollars that’s listed agricultural so that’s going to be the hay ground. The $3,000 some in hay ground is not much in tax so that’s a very small percentage of this amount.
Thompson asked if the commercial part was listed in two sections.
Lamb said it was one line on his computer, but it says land and improvements and they’re split out.
Thompson said his advice would be to take the lots off the market, which makes the county no longer a developer and not in commercial business. He said he thought he can get the tax exemption that the county wants.