No access fee for taxis at the airport this year

Officials to create a comprehensive ground transportation policy that includes ride sharing.

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Martha's Vineyard Airport has had reduced traffic as a result of the ongoing pandemic, but carriers are expected to still provide service this summer.

Historically, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport has required that taxi companies acquire an access permit each year allowing them to service the airport. Service is defined as staging at the airport, as well as picking up and dropping off passengers. 

A $1,750 per-year fee has been a part of that access policy, and although airport commissioner Geoff Wheeler said at a Thursday meeting that it is common at airports across the country, it has historically not been enforced or policed closely by the airport. Last year, Wheeler said five of the taxi companies that normally service the airport paid their fee, but some refused to pay. 

This year, many have said they aren’t going to pay the fee because of the lack of business. The airport land use subcommittee decided at an earlier meeting that now is not the time to pressure the taxi companies to pay the fee. Wheeler suggested that the airport not charge a fee this summer, or until June 30, 2021, which means a loss of about $6,000 in airport revenue. 

Commissioners unanimously approved Wheeler’s suggestion. In the next few months, commissioners agreed to work with airport director Cindi Martin and other officials to create a more comprehensive ground transportation policy that would be enforced more strictly, and would dictate access by ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber, whereas the original policy does not. Martin suggested a staggered fee for companies, depending on what time of year they want to service the airport.

In other business, airport financials are “looking pretty good,” according to commissioner Richard Knabel, who chairs the airport finance subcommittee. “In fact, things are looking very good, considering everything that’s happening.”

Knabel said the cash flow through April was higher than predicted, and the $136,000 of insurance settlement money from a claim filed by the airport to recoup investigative expenses related to PFAS will benefit the budget. Thanks to Martin, Knabel said, the airport managed to get $600,000, or about half of the the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant funds that were available. 

“Cindi has only been here for a year, and the progress we have made on the financial side has just been astounding,” Knabel said. 

On the operations end, assistant airport director Geoff Freeman said general aviation traffic coming in and out of the airport is down 51 percent from last year. Cape Air, which is currently the only air carrier operating out of the airport, saw its number of enplanements (number of passengers boarding planes) go down by 94 percent compared with last year. In May 2020, Cape Air carried 102 passengers in total, down from 689 passengers in May of 2019.

Airport and county seek common ground

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and the Dukes County Commission are looking to agree on an updated overhead allocation model that will satisfy both parties.

In this case, the airport’s overhead, or ongoing costs that are not directly related to a particular product or project, relates to financial services conducted by the county for the airport. The allocation model determines how those services will be measured, and how much the airport will pay for them.

Historically, the airport has utilized the county treasurer for some financial services, but now is trying to bring most of those services in-house.

Knabel said that the old overhead allocation process involved counting the number of invoices processed by the county treasurer and translating that into an amount of money the airport must pay for services rendered. 

But Knabel said that the airport is looking to take control of its accounting, and adopt most of the work the treasurer’s office is doing, “so there will be a major change there,” Knabel said. “The amount that we pay should reflect that change.”

According to Knabel, it hasn’t yet been made clear exactly how the new formula for paying the county should work. In May, a draft agreement was created stating that the current county auditors, Powers & Sullivan, would work with the county, the airport commission, and the county treasurer to formulate a plan for the allocation of overhead. The County Advisory Board (CAB) approved a transfer in the county budget to pay Powers & Sullivan $5,000 to create the plan, but conditioned the transfer by requesting that both the county and airport commission agree to adopt the plan once the auditors are finished with it. 

Knabel said he is concerned about the language in the original draft agreement, noting that the airport commission might be giving up some of its governing authority if it were to adopt the draft. He also said the airport should have more say in the agreement.

He pointed out a technical issue that was a deal-breaker for the agreement, noting that the proposed document incorrectly calls the airport commission the “Dukes County Airport Commission.”

“We are the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission. We can’t enter into an agreement with that name,” Knabel said. He explained that the airport’s grant assurances forbid the commission from voluntarily giving up any authority to another governing body. “We need to sit down and work more with the county on this,” Knabel said. “We can’t commit ourselves to anything where we don’t know what the terms are.”

Commissioners unanimously agreed to wait on signing any type of agreement until the county and the airport can come to common ground.

Airport commissioner Geoff Wheeler said he concurs that the airport shouldn’t sign the document as is. “I think I understand the intent of the county, but it is lacking some major points,” Wheeler said. “The way it reads now, it doesn’t seem like the airport and the county have to agree on something before Powers & Sullivan actually issues a finalized agreement for us to sign.”

In order for the financial agreement to be officially adopted, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must also sign off. “If the FAA doesn’t agree to it, what happens then? Are we back at square one? These are the things we need to know,” Wheeler said.

Dukes County commissioner Christine Todd said she is happy the airport commission is willing to work with the county to come up with an agreement that both parties can settle on.

Airport commission–designate Bob Zeltzer said there is a willingness on both ends to find an equitable way of measuring the services performed by the county, and paying for it. “The conversation has begun, and I hope it leads to a good conclusion,” Zeltzer said.