THE purchaser of Goulburn airport is facing a revolt over new fees and charges outlined to users and property owners at a meeting on Monday.
Many who expect new bills of up to $36,000 just to access the taxiways and runway are refusing to pay the charges, which come into effect from October 1.
“I’ve been here 20 years and I’ve always paid my fees,” aircraft engineer and hangar owner Bernie Quigley said.
“This has made it uneconomical for anyone to remain at the airport. It’s just untenable.”
He’s facing a $24,435 annual access fee and $3200 for sewer connection and availability. Long-time user Tony Lamarra, estimating a $36,000 yearly bill, has accused the council of abrogating its legal responsibility to provide “fair and equitable access” and predicted court action.
Another user of 50 years, Dick Nell told the Post that while he’d always paid his rates to Council he “wouldn’t be paying another set to John Ferrara”.
The council exchanged contracts with Mr Ferrara on the $2.5 million airport sale last month, with settlement to take place in two years or less if required improvements are undertaken. The terms were a $250,000 non-refundable deposit and $500 annual lease fee.
But Monday’s meeting with some 25 users and property owners heard the higher fees were necessary to fund a host of improvements and Mr Ferrara’s “rent” to Council. Another airport user, John ten Have chaired the meeting at Mr Ferrara’s request.
“The access to taxiway/runway is a new charge and the reason it’s there is to fund the cost of running the airport,” he said.
“In the past Goulburn Mulwaree ratepayers have picked up the cost and the reason the council is selling the airport is that they’re no longer willing to pick this up.” The access fee will be $6.64 per square metre of property owned by the user, per annum.
Coupled with a $19.40 AVDATA exemption fee of $484 per aircraft tonne/annum, which also pays for access, some users felt it was “double dipping.”
Yet Mr ten Have outlined a long list of improvements from weed and pest control to landscaping, tie down facilities, a weather information service, airport terminal, a flying school, skydiving centre, solar and wind energy turbine and more. Under the sale terms, Mr Ferrara’s motel, under construction for some 12 years, must be completed in eight months.
“The aim of the purchase is to make the airport a better place,” Mr ten Have said.
“…There’s no reason it can’t be another Camden (in terms of greening) and that will happen. At the moment it’s a windswept desert.”
While all other fees, including landing charges ($19.40/tonne) will remain the same, the new owner will charge for sewer availability and connection. The charges are in line with previous council levies for the stand alone system.
Mr Ferrara told the meeting the regime would recoup his $250,000 deposit, plus five per cent profit. Asked by the Goulburn Post whether he intended following through with the sale, he said he wouldn’t have commenced the purchase otherwise.
Mr ten Have’s chairmanship and use of the term ‘we’ throughout the meeting prompted questions from Corporate Air representatives about his involvement.
“I’m a landowner and chair of the meeting,” he replied.
He later told the Post he had funded with Mr Ferrara some solar and greening initiatives at the facility but had no further financial interest. Mr Quigley asked during the meeting what would happen when landowners refused to pay the new fees.
“I’ll take that as a rhetorical question,” Mr ten Have replied.
“It’s not a rhetorical question, it’s fact,” Mr Quigley said.
His son Brenttyn, who runs an aircraft maintenance business and lives at the airport, is facing a $14,000 to $15,000 annual fee for runway and taxiway access on top of $1300 in council rates.
“I turn over less than $80,000 a year and I can’t afford that. I feel a lot of people will leave,” he said. Mr Ferrara doesn’t think so, describing the fees as minimal and saying they’d be two or three times as much under a different owner. He intended to keep them at this level to draw more businesses and users.
For a related story please see the print edition of the Goulburn Post.