March 11, 2014

Orr, Carlee square off over parking rates at Charlotte’s airport

Former Aviation Director Jerry Orr says his proposal did include tables on parking rate increases. His projections called for about the same increases as the ones that Brent Cagle, Orr’s replacement, established.

A spat over who is responsible for parking rate increases of almost 50 percent at Charlotte Douglas International Airport might come down largely to semantics, as the city manager and former aviation director fired dueling statements at each other this week.

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said in a report to City Council last week that under former Aviation Director Jerry Orr, the airport hadn’t included a plan for raising rates to cover the cost of construction on a new hourly parking deck.

This week, Orr said in a letter to the Observer that his proposal for bonds issued in 2011 to fund the construction did include a proposed schedule for raising rates.

“The plan of finance for the new deck included the commitment that the aviation director would increase parking rates when and as necessary to insure that airport revenues would be sufficient to pay the debt service on the new deck,” wrote Orr.

He pointed to a table in a bond issue document, which totals hundreds of pages, that identified parking rate increases totaling as much as $5.5 million a year through 2017.

The amount of extra revenue from possible parking rate increases was projected at about $11 million for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 in the bond issue documents Orr cited. That’s roughly the same as the $10.6 million that Charlotte Douglas estimates it will collect now with the announced parking rate increase.

“Any idea that I would propose a capital program that would jeopardize the airport’s financial well-being is a complete mischaracterization of my management record as aviation director of Charlotte Douglas since 1989,” wrote Orr, who could not be reached by phone on Tuesday.

Carlee stood by his original report, which he said was only intended to say that Orr didn’t include a detailed schedule for raising rates – not that there was no rates proposal at all.

“A detailed plan of specific increases on specific dates was apparently not submitted, probably overcome by events last year,” wrote Carlee, in an email to the Observer. “Jerry’s letter shows, however, that increases were anticipated. There’s really no conflict here.”

Wrote Carlee: “I have no issues with Mr. Orr’s letter. It documents the representations that I understood were made and confirms the need for rate increases.”

Orr lost his city job last year in the midst of the still-ongoing fight over whether City Council or a new, independent commission should run Charlotte’s airport. Orr, who supported separating the airport from city control, said he was forced out; Carlee said Orr resigned.

Brent Cagle, Orr’s replacement, decided to raise parking rates for many of the airport’s lots between 40 percent and almost 50 percent last month, saying the airport needed more money to pay for debt on the $120 million new deck and cover higher operating costs.

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