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County, Oxford Aviation still at odds
OXFORD COUNTY — County officials have accused Oxford Aviation of refusing to negotiate in good faith.
Following a county commissioner's meeting in which officials went into executive session to discuss further modifications, Oxford County Administrator Scott Cole claimed that Oxford Aviation was unwilling to negotiate.
"The settlement called for not only payment but for negotiations on the lease," said Cole, "and the county is still waiting to see our good faith negotiations."
Oxford Aviation leases the airport from the county as a Fixed Base Operator and runs its internationally recognized aircraft refurbishment and maintenance business there. The lease, which was signed in 1996 and runs through 2027, has given rise to a number of legal disputes between the parties over the last three years.
Among the lease agreements was a stipulation that the county would be responsible for keeping the building and facilities in "good order and repair." In exchange, the county would receive rent payments that totalled $1,312 per month from 2002-2006, $1,800 per month from 2007-2011, and would increase by $300 every five years subsequently.
The company sued Oxford County in 2008 for failing to maintain the airport in accordance with requirements specified in the original lease. In January of 2010, the two sides resolved the conflict through a settlement that called for a $250,000 payment from the county to the company, a transfer of maintenance duties to Oxford Aviation, dropping the rent requirements, and continuing negotiations regarding lease modifications.
Further arbitration was required in 2010 as the county withheld $150,000 of the payment on the grounds that Oxford Aviation had, allegedly, declined to apply the first $50,000 of the funds in the manner agreed upon. A judge found no legal reason to withhold the funds and required the county to pay, but also stipulated that a portion of the funds be used by Oxford Aviation to repair roof problems that had triggered the initial lawsuit.
The arbitration did not, however, release either side from the settlement's requirement to continue negotiating lease modifications on a number of contentious issues within the lease.
Jim Horowitz, owner of Oxford Aviation, denied that his side was refusing good-faith negotiations.
"We are in negotiation and we both have council who have been meeting," said Horowitz. "We have been and remain open to transparent discussions."
"Scott Cole and I still do discuss things on occasion," he continued. "We [Oxford Aviation] do have good faith to see these issues resolved."
Horowitz pointed to issues surrounding the airports fueling station as the only point with which his company has an issue. According to Horowitz, fuel has been unavailable since November due to equipment being out of line with current Department of Transportation regulations. He says that, while exempting the county from building maintenance, the settlement specifically left the county responsible for keeping that equipment in working order and available for use. However, the settlement also specifically listed the issues surrounding the fuel equipment as among those that would be subject to further negotiation.
"Our only issue at this point is lack of fuel," said Horowitz. "It is the county's reponsibility to provide that for us."
Horowitz claimed that the lack of fuel at the airport could have a negative effect on Oxford Aviation's ability to do business.
"It's certainly a hardship," said Horowitz. "It's great to come visit, it's great to bring your plane, but it's nice to know that you will have fuel to fly it out."
Cole said Horowitz' claim that they were open to negotiations was a surprise to him.
"That's good news then," said Cole of Horowitz' willingness to negotiate. "We met with him and his attorney on January 24, and I thought we had a good meeting. Then we got an e-mail from [Oxford Aviation's Attorney Paul] Driscoll saying that negotiations were essentially dead."
"[Oxford County's attorney Leonard Sharon] and I were both dumbfounded," added Cole.
Horowitz denied that he was refusing to negotiate, pointing to a meeting between the the two parties' attorneys on Thursday, March 17 as evidence that negotiations had taken place even after his attorney had declared negotiations dead in February. Neither side could give any details on the recent meeting.
"Since then, there have been talks and mediations," said Horowitz.
Cole says the county's main concern is finding a mutually beneficial solution, and making sure that the county knows what is going on in their own buildings. The lease allows for county officials to enter the airport at any time provided they give prior notice and do not interfere with business operations.
Cole was interested in making the inspection process more clearly delineated.
"The County continues to seek a lease that makes sense for both parties," said Cole. "We're interested in seeing how the county's buildings are being used and defining a process for inspection."
Horowitz said that the current lease deals adequately with inspections.
"We would never object to that," said Horowitz of complying with a county inspection. "The county currently has the ability to inspect the building. We have no problem with what is in the lease."
Both sides claim to be amenable to a solution that benefits both parties, and willing to sit down and discuss the matter.
"Oxford Aviation has absolutely no desire for this to be contentious," said Horowitz. "Our goal [in negotiating the lease] is to make sure that we have something that will allow us to run smoothly."
When asked if he felt it was the County holding up negotiations, he responded, "That would be political or legal posturing."
"I don't think it serves anyone to try to posture in the press or anywhere else."
Cole also hoped to bring negotiations to a mutually beneficial agreement, but wondered if Oxford Aviation was doing more than talking.
"We're positive and optimistic," said Cole. "But we believe that actions speak louder than words."