Monday, February 29, 2016

Chatham, Massachusetts, counts the cost of being sued

Chatham Airport matters, including those relating to the future of Sky Dive Chatham have cost the town tens of thousands of dollars in staff time and legal fees. 

CHATHAM -- Since concerned residents began the fight to eliminate skydiving it’s cost the town a lot of time and money. But how much?

That was Selectman Dean Nicastro’s query and he got some answers last week.

“It’s important to understand the financial implications,” he said.

A memo drawn up by Town Manager Jill Goldsmith catalogues the legal fees expended by the town, as well as the cost of some staff time, but there are still undocumented expenses.

One firm number is the $42,029 in legal costs the town has spent so far as well as the close to $4,000 in consulting fees so the town could have a safety study conducted at the airport.

Those figures will continue to climb as the town is in the midst of defending itself against a suit leveled by Citizens for a Safe Chatham Airport, which is trying to prevent a skydiving operation from returning to the municipal airport. Although the town agreed with residents that there were safety concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration did not and since the airport has taken grant funding from the federal government it can’t discriminate against any aeronautical activity.

Under pressure, town officials drew up a request for proposals for skydiving, residents sued and both sides will be in court again on March 17.

“I think it’s important we understand that whenever the town is sued the taxpayer is impacted,” Nicastro said.

In addition to those costs, the memo briefly sketched out staff time.

Principal Projects Manager Terry Whalen, who made $95,000 in 2014, spent three to four days a week, 60 to 80 percent of his time, on airport matters from spring 2013 to last summer, Goldsmith wrote in the memo. That number was reduced 20 to 40 percent of his time in the past few months, but before 2013 he could go weeks without dedicating hours to the airport.

The memo made it clear that since 2013, “a progressively substantial staffing effort” has been devoted to the airport. The effort includes complying with open meeting and public records laws, dealing with Federal Aviation Administration requirements (multiple RFPs were required), capital planning, technical support for legal complaints and financial work. Goldsmith said she did not include her time or time spent by Finance Director Alix Heilala and Executive Secretary Shanna Nealy on airport matters.

At the spring town meeting the airport commission is hoping to bring forward some capital needs for the airport on George Ryder Road. The airport manager, Cape Cod Flying Circus, is responsible for routine housekeeping and maintenance, as well as utilities, all insurances, etc, but the town is responsible for major structural repairs.

The money for these requests doesn’t come out of the airport’s revolving fund, which is primarily made up of lease payments from Cape Cod Flying Circus, as well as other payments – such as fishermen storing their gear on the property – and is capped at $40,000. The $302,000 for the four capital items will need to be approved by town meeting and will add about five cents to the tax rate, said Heilala last week. The requests include: $100,000 to repair a hangar door, $160,000 to repair safety, electrical and structural issues in a storage hangar, $25,000 for stormwater mitigation and $17,000 for a specialized snow removal machine which is also a bucket loader. The federal and state governments are picking up the bulk of the machine’s cost, the town is only responsible for five percent.

Original article can be found here:

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