After a boisterous meeting Tuesday, the Routt County commissioners agreed to consider changes to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport including possibly hiring a meter maid and extra people to control traffic.
Normally a dull affair, the commissioners' weekly meeting with the airport's manager turned into a "gripefest" for residents, airport workers, airport tenants and law enforcement officials.
Christmas vacation at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport saw cars towed, ticketed and booted for the first time en masse as people ignored signs and refused to pay for parking.
It's the first time in the airport's history that the county has charged for parking, and people at the meeting told commissioners that it's about time.
"There will be enough money generated from parking to support traffic control and meter maids," said Avis operator Aaron Wiltfong, an outspoken tenant of the airport. Wiltfong said the county can raise $400,000 a year from paid parking.
Traffic control has been an ongoing problem at the Hayden airport during the ski season. Airport maintenance workers complained to commissioners that fights break out when traffic comes to a standstill, and in some cases they are threatened by airline passengers when those passengers are told to move.
Hertz manager Debbie Watson said the money should have been there a long time ago to pay for traffic control and a meter maid.
"If you would have put in a paid parking honor system 14 years ago, you could have made $2 million," Watson said.
Commissioner Ben Beall agreed that paid parking is the way to go, but scoffed at the amounts thrown about at the meeting.
"I'm suspicious of these numbers," Beall said to Watson and Wiltfong's income estimates.
"It's simple math," Watson shot back. "That's counting four busy months, and you can count the spaces."
Everybody at the meeting agreed that paid parking is a must, but the county is having a problem trying to find a way to enforce parking.
Hayden's chief of police told the commissioners he isn't able to write tickets at the airport, although it's considered part of the city of Hayden.
"I don't think we can legally. It's private property," said Jody Lenahan. "We would need to pass an ordinance."
As far as directing traffic at the airport, Hayden's Town Manager Rob Straebel said it's not the job of Hayden police. But he did say the town might help target the airport's busiest hours for ticketing and patrolling.
"We do get heavy sales tax from the airport, so we want to rectify some of the problems," Straebel said.
But Lenahan reminded Straebel and the commissioners that the town usually has only one officer on duty.
The commissioners then asked if off-duty officers who work inside the airport could be used to ticket cars and direct traffic. That idea was quickly shot down by those same officers who said they couldn't be in two places at one time.
Airport Manager Jim Parker suggested hiring a meter maid was the way to go and most people agreed.
The problem of short-term parking also must be addressed, said resident Linda Haltom, whose car was towed when she went inside to pick up her 70-year-old mother.
Haltom had left her car in an Avis rental spot when she couldn't find a 30-minute spot open, or a 15-minute curbside space.
"There was no sign about towing, so imagine my shock when I came out to find my car gone," Haltom said.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak agreed that more signs should be put up warning about towing and said expanding short-term parking will be among the issues studied by the airport manager and the commissioners.
"We need to look at collection and who gets it," Stahoviak said.
"We also need to look at the configuration of parking at the airport, but we've got to remember we are subsidizing that airport to the tune of $700,000 this year. We can't do things to increase that subsidy."
Commissioner Dan Ellison said they also would meet with Hayden police about their assistance. As for any complaints from the public about having to pay for parking, Ellison wasn't sympathetic.
"What we consider remote parking here is closer than anything I have ever experienced at DIA (Denver International Airport), and that's carrying my bags," Ellison said.