A Beaufort County Council committee voted Tuesday to approve a 5 percent increase in hangar rental rates at county airports, and to levy property taxes on the hangars that will be paid by the tenants who lease them.
A subcommittee of the county Airports Board recommended the revenue sources so Hilton Head Island Airport and Beaufort County Airport on Lady's Island would be less dependent on money from the county general fund to subsidize operations.
The council Finance Committee and the Airports Board members agreed to the rent hike in part after being told the new rates would be similar to those charged by nearby airports of similar size.
"The rental rates that we're talking about are consistent between Hilton Head and its comparables," said Paul Andres, county airports director. "Lady's Island also is comparable to similar airports like Walterboro, Ridgeland."
The decision to levy property taxes on the hangars sparked more discussion than the rate increases. County Assessor Ed Hughes said the hangars came to his attention because they are privately leased and not available for public use.
"I could not go in there, make arrangements to use that facility, because there is a lease in there," Hughes said. "That makes them a taxable asset."
The tax would be determined under the same formula as used for other rental properties. Money collected would go back to the airports -- a decision that prompted Councilman Bill McBride to vote against the plan.
"I just feel that if the county is going to be taxing those hangars, the money should go directly into the county general fund," said McBride, the only council member opposed.
Airports Board member Joseph Mazzei also expressed concern about the proposal to raise rents and levy property taxes. A plane owner who rents a county hangar, Mazzei said it was troubling the increased operating costs would be passed onto him and other tenants who use their planes only for recreation and personal use.
"You'll know when you've raised these prices too much when you have an empty hangar," Mazzei said. "We're now up to approximately $4,000 a year. Eventually you can tax me out of the market."
The rate increase and property tax collection will go to the County Council for approval.
The Finance Committee and Airports Board also heard a financial report Tuesday for both county airports from July 1, 2000, to March 31, 2009.Columbia accounting firm Elliot Davis reviewed the accuracy of the reports and the county's analysis.
"You can rely on them," county chief financial officer David Starkey said of the numbers.
County administrator Gary Kubic said the presentation signaled a new era of cooperation and openness between the council, the Airports Board and the public.
"Eventually, the financial reporting is only going to be one dimension of what we're going to do as a group with the airport," Kubic said. "If you present some data that people can understand and talk about at the kitchen table, then you've achieved your mission. We're a lot further ahead today than we were yesterday."