Low-Rent Airport

You could say North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines is an aging, chronically underfunded facility. And that was true before Hurricane Wilma came along and shook the place up like a popsicle-stick cabin in a blender. Still, the busy general aviation airport is crucial to balancing South Florida's air traffic, and it needs North Perry, where privately owned small planes land and take off. And the airport needs tenants — the kind who pay their rent and invest their profits back into the hangars and aircraft that will produce revenue for the airport in the future.

This brings Tailpipe to Mike Szatmary, an aircraft maintenance expert who did business at North Perry for 40 years, until he was forced to shut down last year. In early 2005, Szatmary says, he was ready to pour up to $900,000 into his county-owned North Perry facilities — whose two giant sliding doors had blown off twice even before Wilma got there and whose rafters were spongy with termite damage.

But his plans got bogged down in the famously methodical bureaucracy that is the Broward County Aviation Department, which wouldn't grant Szatmary a lease because of an insurance wrinkle having to do with how planes were refueled at Szatmary's site. The two sides were close to an agreement in October 2005 when Wilma shredded the place.

The hurricane was almost the final knockout blow for Szatmary, already reeling from financial problems. He was insured for hurricane damage, he says, but he couldn't afford to pay the deductible. Under the terms of his lease with the county, he would have to vacate his space.

That would have been the time for creative problem-solving. Szatmary had been a reliable tenant, and he approached the county to request its help in paying his deductible, roughly $20,000. He asked for half. The county refused him. How about a low-interest loan? No again. Another North Perry tenant, who had learned of Szatmary's plight, offered to buy the facilities and let Szatmary remain there while he made the payments to get back his buildings. But the Aviation Department wouldn't allow that either.

So in May 2006, Szatmary abandoned North Perry.

Szatmary and his wife, Sue, moved north to Ocala. Since Mike suffered an injury that keeps him from doing the maintenance work he used to do, funds have gotten tighter. The Szatmarys' goals are set considerably lower these days. All they want now is the $13,000 or so that the county has been holding in escrow for two years. That's one month's rent and a security deposit. While Mike Szatmary's retirement fund melted away and Sue Szatmary interrupted her own retirement to return to work, the county commissioners have postponed ruling on the release of those funds five times since January.

Greg Meyer, a spokesman for the Aviation Department, says that the commissioners are waiting for a ruling from their legal department. He doesn't know why that has taken a year.

"They give me nothing but excuses," Mike Szatmary rages. It's all about North Perry's being the county's ugly stepchild, as county bureaucrats fawn over sexy Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International and Fort Lauderdale Executive airports.

As the Szatmarys stew, their buildings at North Perry remain empty. The Aviation Department still hasn't gotten around to demolishing them. "It's like a big open sore," Sue Szatmary says. "It's really a shame."

A shame for the county too insofar as the Szatmary space is no longer providing the airport with much-needed revenue. Add one more cruel irony: Last month, the county announced plans to use county funds to spruce up North Perry, in part to help the airport attract more tenants.

One Man's Admirable

Congrats may be in order for George Hanbury II, chief operating officer at Nova Southeastern University. Hanbury is getting a Leadership Broward Foundation Award for "understanding and improving the quality of life in our region."

You remember Hanbury. He's the guy who oversees Nova's day-to-day operations in areas like human resources and finances, a driving force in a boldly anti-employee action recently against a bunch of janitors, groundskeepers, and other low-wage service employees on the Davie campus.

When the workers voted for union representation, the school decided to put its services contract — held for 12 years by Massachusetts-based Unicco — up for re-bid. Unicco, which had recognized the union, lost the contract. As of February 19, about 100 of Unicco's former Nova employees were out of jobs, according to the union.

There are many ways to skin a cat, Tailpipe has heard, and just as many ways to get rid of employees who might start to ask for things like health care and a living wage.

This makes Hanbury admirable, right?

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