County seeks advice on airport

PARIS - Oxford County commissioners are looking into whether they can break a 20-year lease with Oxford Aviation and renegotiate it to a year-to-year agreement.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to hire an attorney who will check the agreement between the county and the aviation company to see if any terms have been broken. The lease allows Oxford Aviation, which refurbishes small planes, to use space at Oxford County Regional Airport in Oxford.

Commissioners are concerned activities not allowed under the lease are being conducted by the aviation company.

"We asked for compliance over and over again. It never goes anywhere. Never, never goes anywhere," said Chairman Steven Merrill at Tuesday morning's monthly meeting.

The long-standing disagreement between commissioners and Oxford Aviation owner James Horowitz stems from a series of incidents that commissioners claim violated terms of the 20-year lease.

The county owns the airport on Airport Road off Route 26. Horowitz leases the space for aircraft refurbishing. More recently he has been painting trucks there without permission. It's a business commissioners believe violates the lease terms because it is not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In July, commissioners issued a notice of default to Horowitz threatening to terminate the county's lease if he did not stop working on the trucks within 90 days. The FAA eventually ordered the county to shut down the nonaviation-related activity, but commissioners said Horowitz continues to disregard the lease terms in other areas, including making renovations to the facility's interior without permission.

Phil Simpson, a consultant hired by commissioners to investigate airport issues, told commissioners the airport could only be sold to a taxing authority and not to a private business while there is federal government money invested in it. The county could, however, pay the federal government loans off. Then the county would no longer be obligated to the government for assurances required under loan agreements. The only drawback, he said, would be the remaining 20-year lease to Oxford Aviation.

Commissioner Caldwell Jackson said he is convinced that Horowitz has broken the lease. Rather than sell the airport, it would be in the county's best interest to address the lease terms and try to renegotiate a year-to-year lease with Horowitz.

Jackson said there are problems at the airport that continue to cost the county money. About $30,000 a year in county money is used to maintain the facility.

Horowitz, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, pays about $1,800 a month to lease the site.

"It would be different if it were a service to the county. But the county isn't getting what it pays for," Commissioner David Duguay said.

Merrill reiterated a long-standing concern of commissioners, saying he was worried about job security for people employed by Oxford Aviation. "I just don't want to lose all the jobs," he said.