Roundtable seeks to reduce costs for Customs' rent - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Roundtable seeks to reduce costs for Customs' rent

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Just weeks after an air passenger service fee increase took affect aimed at helping the Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency pay its rent at the airport, a roundtable was held this morning to get a better understanding of those very rent arrangements and what, if anything, could be done to reduce the costs.

Starting October 1, an air passenger service fee increase for air carrier operations took affect from $6.36 to $8.29 per passenger. Comptroller Carlos Bordallo explained, saying, "My understanding is the Customs fee should be reflective of the cost of customs to function at the Guam Airport Authority to include to what I've discussed with customs, the current rate should be sufficient to accommodate the rent."

And with that, the concern over Customs and Quarantine's rent at the Guam International Airport was once again reignited during a roundtable this morning before lawmakers. For the past three years, customs has paid around $3 million for rent - a concern Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz has been adamant about even introducing legislation to ultimately waive their rent. Cruz further criticized airport executive manager chuck ada saying that without customs the airport couldn't even operate or exist.

He said, "As you mentioned no passenger can arrive Guam without Guam Customs, no passenger can leave Guam without TSA - TSA pays rent, at the airport, so does...every single tenant outside airport employee pays rent."

As for whether Customs could get free or reduced space, Ada says his hands are tied as the airport is overly regulated - an attribution he says makes it one of the best run agencies. "Coming up to the airport, I wanted to see how we can be creative and support but unfortunately there are federal statutes minus the bond indenture, that prohibit us from any economic discrimination," he said.

The airport further explained that based on last year's numbers, with the fee increase, about $2.7 million more would be accumulated to help cover the rent expense for Customs. Lawmakers meanwhile further questioned that with this fee increase aimed at helping pay a majority of the rent, why the need for an appropriation of $3.2 million from the General Fund. Custom's Major Paul Toves explained, saying, "we are currently reviewing the process in which payments are made and how the billing process is with the airport and we're having the same working well together in addressing that situation, but it will be made to a point where our record keeping and systems of remittance are proper and legal."

Aviation chair Senator Michael San Nicolas meanwhile says if anything is to be taken from this roundtable, it's to further look into whether rent is assessed to federal customs operations in airports across the country and if so, how they compare to the rent charged here at home. "It's very good that the airport and customs are working together to try and reduce the cost of operating for the benefit of enhancing customs operations and also if we're able to look closer maybe also for lower costs for our people," he said.

While much of the concern surrounds Customs' rent, lease payments for the PacAir Cargo Facility have been deferred for the first five years and will take effect next summer to the tune of $240,000. Airport management meanwhile responded that the agreement was part of a contract signed before their time.

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