How much is a prototype helicopter worth? Who's going to determine its value? And if the helicopter and its technology are sold, how much of Red Willow County's $300,000 loan can be recouped? Should the county pay storage costs accruing on the helicopter?
Oh, and the federal government has a lien against Pawnee Aviation, for what county officials are assuming are unpaid payroll taxes.
And remember, a man from Kansas claims ownership of the helicopter as well.
Red Willow County commissioners were hit Monday morning with a storage bill of $20,557.76 that the county will need to pay before Pawnee Aviation's helicopter is released by the Erie Convair Hangar Complex of Erie, Colo. And the bill -- from August 2008 through the end of February 2010 -- is growing to the tune of $500 a month for hangar rental, plus utilities, fees, taxes and interest.
In a hangar rental agreement that Pawnee Aviation president Ron Willocks signed Aug. 15, 2008, Willocks discloses that Red Willow County and McCook Economic Development have collection liens against the property in storage.
Willocks has agreed, since a district court default judgement in November 2009, to turn over to the county the helicopter, the flatbed trailer and the two sets of rotor blades in storage, (and computers and files in Willocks' possession), but he told Rex Nelson, administrator of the county's revolving loan program, that he cannot pay the storage costs because of his rising medical bills. Storage costs last week were estimated to be $7,758, (as reported in a March 16 news story).
And, County Attorney Paul Wood told commissioners Monday morning that the federal government filed a federal tax lien for $1,704.88 plus interest and penalties on May 22, 2008, presumably, Wood said, for payroll taxes owed by Pawnee Aviation. Wood said that the federal government would have first priority to collect its lien from proceeds from any sale of Pawnee Aviation assets.
Maybe, said Commissioner Leigh Hoyt, the county can sell the intellectual properties -- the computers, designs and files -- to the hangar company holding the helicopter so that it can continue the development of the project. "No one wants to start over," Nelson said.
"Keep in mind," Wood said, "The Kansas man claims ownership too."
Nelson said that Michael McRhodes, who e-mailed to commissioners the storage bill at 3:45 a.m., Monday, also forwarded information on a certified aircraft appraiser who can evaluate the value of the helicopter and, McRhodes writes, "perhaps even the upside of the entire project."
McRhodes seems to support Willocks' small helicopter kit project. "The smaller helicopter part of the aircraft industry is still in infancy ... A sub-$100,000 helo bird has so much market expandability ... "
McRhodes writes that it is unfortunate that a deal that Willocks was trying to make with a Mexican investor was not achieved. McRhodes writes: "There is a lot more money in Mexico, Central and South American than one residing in the Rocky Mountains or Plains states region might imagine. An increasing demand in industry, oil, pipeline, logging, et. al, with remote access needs is intensified by extremely limited and distant airport facilities. A helicopter can put down and take off anywhere."
Commissioner Chairman Earl McNutt is concerned that paying the storage costs is "throwing more good money into a bad project." McNutt asked Wood if the Nebraska attorney general's office might be interested in the ultimate settlement of the lawsuit because the initial funds for the county's revolving loan program came from federal sources through the Nebraska's Department of Economic Development (DED). Wood said he would contact the DED and also the Department of the Treasury to determine the total of the federal government's lien.
McNutt said the problems only continue to grow with the Pawnee Aviation loan and resulting lawsuit. "Something's fishy about the whole deal," he said, adding that the county may need to "sell what we can and wash our hands of it all."
He continued, "Even if we had the helicopter, is it a flyable machine? It doesn't do much more than hover."
Nelson said that he hopes that if the county leaves the helicopter in Colorado that someone would contact the county for the files, molds, computer-aided designs and computers.
Wood said that anyone bidding at a sale "is buying an idea ... an unproven idea. If this were really that valuable, Ron (Willocks) would have found a buyer."
Commissioners will discuss the ongoing situation at their April 5 meeting at 9:45 a.m.