Kenai looks for ways to boost airport activity

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- The Kenai Airport Commission and Kenai City Council are looking for ways to attract more aircraft to the Kenai Municipal Airport.

A possible personal property tax break on planes is among the options under consideration. However, the commission found more questions than answers as some aircraft owners suggested other factors may be driving pilots away.

''The airport is not what is was 10 years ago,'' said Larry Porter, a private aircraft owner and husband to council member Pat Porter. ''You don't have the services you had 10 years ago.''

The services Porter referred to was a full-time mechanical repair operation for planes.

''If you need your airplane worked on, you can't get it,'' he said.

He said many private flyers currently take their planes to Kenai Aviation Inc. when they need work, but that private planes have a lower priority than the company's own planes.

James Zirul, another private aircraft owner, said more businesses at the airport would bring more pilots. He said the absence of more of the larger airport tenants the size of ERA Aviation or the now-defunct Southcentral Air is what would bring aircraft mechanics and, in turn, more planes.

Mayor John Williams presented the idea of a $100,000 tax exemption on personal property. He said the Kenai Peninsula Borough uses the same exemption for airplanes and he thought this might attract more planes to park in Kenai.

''Most private aircraft have a value of about $50,000,'' Williams said.

City finance director Larry Semmens said the city could stand to lose $56,000 a year in tax revenue. Such an exemption, he said, could cause more troubles than it would solve.

Zirul agreed with Williams, however, and pointed out where lost revenue could possibly be recouped.

''If you make tax cuts, you're going to end up with more planes at slips,'' Zirul said. ''You can charge slip fees and make up the money.''

But Semmens warned against a slippery slope with exempting taxes.

''If a particular group enjoys an exemption, other groups will want exemptions,'' Semmens said.

If homeowners and boat-owners wanted a similar tax exemption, it could become costly to the city.

''If you totally exempt personal property taxes, the city loses $172,000 a year.''

Williams said he wanted the commission to come up with a plan that would bring business to the airport, and he hoped the panel could have something ready by next spring's city budget discussions. He said he wanted to see the airport reach its full potential.

''This is a wonderful airport. The government has put tons of money into it.''

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