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New Billing System for Longmont Airport Land May Force Mile-Hi Skydiving to Reduce Its Use Area

January 18, 2018 GMT

City Council’s recent changes to land-usage fees charged by Vance Brand Municipal Airport in Longmont could cost Mile-Hi Skydiving tens of thousands of dollars more in 2018 compared to last year’s payments to the airport.

That price tag comes with a considerable decrease from the amount of airport land available to the company in the past.

However, the airport’s new billing system does allow Mile-Hi some flexibility to minimize the change’s impact on its overhead costs.

On Dec. 19, the Longmont City Council adopted a new system of charging non-exclusive users of undeveloped airport property on a basis of just more than 10 cents per square foot that a company uses on its average day. The areas of the airport designated for non-exclusive use are open to be applied for and used by anyone.

With the new fee structure, Mile-Hi Skydiving would have faced $104,617.50 in bills from the airport last year for the 975,000 square feet it used, airport manager David Slayter said. The new rate the City Council chose to implement was the lowest of the three considered.

Instead, the skydiving company paid just $7,896 to the airport last year to fulfill the former flat flee charged to non-exclusive users of land that was replaced with the council’s unanimous vote for the per-square-foot model.

The airport’s budget backs up Slayter’s claims that Mile-Hi Skydiving is by far the predominant user of the area designated as non-exclusive. Slayter said the airport collected just $100 for non-exclusive use fees in addition to the skydiving company’s bill through all of 2017.

That $100 was the non-annual, single-use rate charged to a group that put on a motorcycle safety and training course, Slayter said.

Under the new system of charging on a per-square-foot basis for the non-exclusive use fees, Mile-Hi will likely have to change how it operates, as affording the 975,000 square feet has become more difficult.

The company didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Denver Airports District Office recommends general aviation airports keep 338,000 square feet of space open for parachuting operations, but Slayter said Mile-Hi can request to use less square footage than recommended, as well as request more space when necessary.

Altering how much space is needed for skydiving jumps on a day-to-day basis may save Mile-Hi much of the increased cost it would face if it were charged for the full 338,000 square feet every day.

In other words, the new system for assessing non-exclusive, land-use fees allows a party to use no airport property one day and face no fee, and an entire 338,000 square feet the next and only be billed for the land use on the second day.

For example, Mile-Hi may choose to use only 8,000 square feet for a single jump one day, and then, when it’s windy, use 200,000 square feet the next day and be charged for only using 208,000 square feet at the airport total for the two days.

Such a billing system will likely ensure the added costs for Mile-Hi do not surge to $36,267 for a year of non-exclusive use of 338,000 square feet per day at the airport.

Additional discounts for Mile-Hi will come in the form of credits for maintenance the company performs on the airport property in lieu of allowing the airport to maintain the company’s landing zone.

“Mile-Hi maintains the property because they want it to be maintained to a higher standard than what we require,” Slayter said. “The maintenance is not required to be done by them or anyone else, but if they perform maintenance, it does allow for the maintenance credit under the new schedule of rates and charges as stipulated.”

The amount of money credited toward Mile-Hi’s airport fees would be determined by Slater based on how much it would cost the airport to have performed the maintenance, according to the city’s website.

Those who have opposed Mile-Hi’s manner of operation before due to airplane noise caused near their homes see the City Council’s decision to increase the usage fees as a step in the right direction.

Kimberly Gibbs, organizer of Citizens for Quiet Skies, which filed a lawsuit over noise against the skydiving company, said she may have felt the city’s decision to increase the company’s operating costs by potentially tens of thousands of dollars was sudden, if not for what she views is the company’s irresponsible handling of complaints.

“If they were willing to be a good corporate citizen, and address the concerns about noise and make some adjustments, I would feel differently (about the rise in airport fees),” Gibbs said. “That noise is a huge impact on our community. I think when you go from getting a free ride to having to pay your own way, or your fair share, it can be jarring.”

Mile-Hi Skydiving was allowed to operate without paying the $7,896 fee until the oversight was brought to the City Council’s attention in 2015, when the company began paying the fee.

Sam Lounsberry: 970-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .