A private airplane owner was treated to a largely unsympathetic response when he attended last week's Kenai City Council meeting to protest the 3.5 mills of tax the city levies on personal property, including airplanes, boats and vehicles. David Wartinbee of Soldotna bought an airplane and had planned to keep it at the Kenai Municipal Airport but was advised not to by other aviators because of the tax, he said. If he did keep his plane there, the tax would cost him about $200 a year for his plane.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough and the cities of Soldotna and Homer exempt $100,000 of personal property from the tax, but Kenai does not. Wartinbee wrote a letter to the city and attended the council meeting to protest this practice.
"For the services I would like to have, I can get those services for far less," Wartinbee said. "The fact is that everything I need is in Soldotna or some other airport. Every time I talk to people they say 'get your plane out of (Kenai).' I think that your tax is too high. It is chasing people out. It is chasing me out."
The more planes that leave, the fewer tie-down fees the airport collects. Area businesses also lose money by private planes leaving the Kenai airport because the pilots will buy gas, pay for maintenance services and shop in whatever other community they keep their planes in, he said.
"This community is losing money. ... If I were a business person in this town, I would be smoking. I think what you're doing is killing the golden goose that lays the eggs."
Wartinbee said he has heard of dozens of people taking their planes from Kenai to the Soldotna airport and has counted more than 100 planes there.
Rebecca Cronkhite, manager of the Kenai Municipal Airport, estimated there were between 20 and 30 private planes on Kenai airport tie-down spaces and around 15 planes on private tiedown spaces.
Wartinbee said he would rather keep his plane at the Kenai airport, because of the wide, well-maintained runways, the infrequency of strong crosswinds and the safety factor the control tower adds, but he wasn't going to because of the tax.
"The best airport of the peninsula has the fewest number of planes of any airport on the peninsula," he said. "... I know what taxes are and I'm not afraid to pay taxes but why should I pay a tax if don't have to?"
Kenai Mayor John Williams responded by saying he found Wartinbee's letter insulting.
"Your proposal to take away the tax is a long line of rhetoric (we hear from people) when it comes time to pay their taxes," he said. "I'm not going to cut taxes for every little whim when you don't want to pay. If you don't want to take advantage of the type of airport we have here, that's your problem."
Williams said the property tax revenue goes into the city's general fund, not the airport fund, and that the city's general fund is running at a deficit this year as it is. Cutting the tax revenue from that fund would increase the deficit. It would then fall to the citizens of Kenai to pay for that deficit, he said.
"Taxes are a way of life," he said. "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the guy behind the tree."
Wartinbee said he didn't mind a little extra for the superior facility at the Kenai airport, but that he and other aviators he's talked to think the current rate is too high.
"Go ahead, shoot the messenger," Wartinbee said. "I'm trying to tell you that this is a problem I have seen."
Council member Amy Jackman thanked Wartinbee for coming to the meeting and asked him to keep in mind the services the Kenai airport offers when deciding where to keep his plane.
Council member Pat Porter thanked Wartinbee for his letter and told him she appreciated his concern but said he was not seeing the big picture of the financial situation Kenai is in.
Council member Linda Swarner asked that the airplane tax issue be brought up in policy and budget work sessions the council is planning.
According to Cronkhite, the tax and its ramifications have been discussed by the council and Airport Commission in the past. The airport has received a number of complaints about it, but not enough to be sure what the majority of people think about it, she said.
"We do see it when we do a survey from a lot of people, but I would hesitate to say that everybody feels that way," she said.
Wartinbee said his goal in addressing the council was to let them know people do feel strongly enough about the tax to take their business to another airport.
"What I'm trying to do is be a wakeup call and say 'you really need to look at this,'" he said. "I don't think in the past there was a concerted effort of people coming in and saying 'hey, you're losing me.' That's what I want to be. I'll be a poster child."
He didn't know how effective he was in achieving this goal because he couldn't tell what all the council members thought about the matter, he said.
"I don't know the council, but I think if there were enough people coming in to say 'hey, this is really not the right thing' then maybe they'd consider changing it. ... The issue as I see it is not dead yet."
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