Editorial: Aeroframe deal wise investment

A $13 million deficit for 2013-14 is causing the Calcasieu Parish School Board to have second thoughts about a $600,000 tax credit it granted to Aeroframe Services at the Chennault Industrial Airpark. A board committee voted 11-2 not to extend a 2003 agreement with the company that repairs and refurbishes aircraft and related components..

The full board will take up the issue at its May 7 meeting. The credit amounts to a $5,000-per-employee tax break. It would

decrease by $120,000, or 20 percent for each employee each year for the next five years.

Members of the Lake Charles City

Council voted to grant Aeroframe an extension of its agreement totaling

almost the same amount.

Mayor Randy Roach called it good business, even though budget

deficits have been projected by the city’s finance office for

two consecutive years.

Randy Robb, Chennault’s executive

director, has been encouraging local entities to allow the extension. He

said Aeroframe

took over the company after EADS had trouble keeping the business

going. Even now, foreign competition in the aviation sector

is hindering Aeroframe’s growth, Robb said.

“This type of industry is very

competitive, and the margins are wafer thin,” Robb said. “This renewal

is crucial, because

a tax burden at this time will cause an undue hardship on our

expanding business. And they are trying to get on their feet.

Right now, they aren’t in a good position.”

In spite of its deficit, Karl

Bruchhaus, the Calcasieu School Board’s longtime chief financial

officer, thinks the agreement

should be continued because of the economic opportunity it

creates. Aeroframe has 400 employees who are taxpayers and contributing

members to the community.

Roger Porter, Aeroframe president/chief executive officer, said the tax breaks are “crucial in promoting a competitive advantage

in our industry.”

Dale Bernard, one of the two board members who voted to continue the agreement, said, “I certainly don’t want us to dig a

deeper hole, but I don’t think $600,000 will make that much of a difference toward alleviating the $13 million deficit.

“I’m trying to keep the employment we have in the city. By voting for it, I was supporting Mayor Randy Roach and our financial

director. I’m sorry the other board members didn’t see it that way. I hope we can come to a compromise.”

The future looks bright for Southwest Louisiana, but pending projects are a few years down the road. Aeroframe is different.

It is up and running and becoming a major economic engine in this area.

Members of the School Board are

looking at a hiring freeze and consolidating low-attendance schools, and

say they are confident

they will do whatever has to be done. Meanwhile, we hope the board

sees the value in extending the Aeroframe agreement, which

makes up only 4.6 percent of its projected deficit. It has proved

so far to be a wise economic investment for this community.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.