PARIS — Oxford Aviation said Thursday it has laid off half of its work force and may have to close its aircraft refurbishing business if Oxford County doesn’t pay for repairs to airport buildings in Oxford as it agreed to do in January.
County commissioners agreed to withhold a $100,000 payment due Wednesday, because Oxford Aviation failed to keep them up to date on work done on airport buildings the company leases.
“The county had asked Oxford Aviation for written and verifiable assurances that they were undertaking the repair work and repairing the roof and remediating the mold,” said Joshua Carver, the county’s attorney. “Oxford Aviation would not provide such assurances to the county.”
In response, Oxford Aviation has amended a complaint filed against the county in August 2008 to charge breach of the settlement agreement and interference with the company’s business relations.
Jim Horowitz, president of Oxford Aviation, said the company was relying on the $100,000 in its budget and is unable to sustain payroll levels due to the nonpayment. As a result, the company has indefinitely laid off 23 of its approximately 50 employees.
“They gave us virtually no notice but did tell us that they were declining to pay anything further,” Horowitz said.
The 2008 lawsuit accused the county of neglecting to address a water leak that eventually led to mold in buildings the company uses. The county said it had responded promptly and spent more than $100,000 on repairs.
The county and Oxford Aviation entered into a lease agreement in 1996, which remains in effect until 2027. The county was formerly obligated to address any maintenance issues at the airport’s buildings, but the January settlement transferred those obligations to the company.
In return, the $21,600 annual rent paid by Oxford Aviation to the county was waived, and the county agreed to pay $250,000 in four installments to assist with the needed repairs: $50,000 immediately, $100,000 on March 10; $50,000 on June 1, and $50,000 on Sept. 1.
Commissioners David Duguay, Caldwell Jackson and Steve Merrill are included in the company’s amended complaint.
Oxford Aviation attorneys Mark Lavoie and Russell Pierce Jr. argue that the settlement did not include any provision that payment was conditional upon assurance that maintenance would occur. They say that written and oral assurances about the repair work were given to the county.
The attorneys also charge that the commissioners planned to withhold the $100,000 payment “as a means to manipulate the ultimate decline, demise, and destruction of Oxford Aviation Inc.”
Carver said the settlement obligated the company to provide maintenance assurances to the county, and he denied commissioners were attempting to undermine the agreement.
“The county entered into the settlement agreement with the full intention of paying the full $250,000, as long as Oxford Aviation held up its end of the deal and made all necessary repairs and maintenance at the airport,” he said.
In a statement Thursday, Oxford Aviation said it may have to close its operations if a resolution is not reached in an “expeditious manner.” It said it will complete the work on its current contracts and keep a full-time mechanic at the airport per the lease agreement. The company was founded in 1989 and has leased space at the airport since then.
County Administrator Scott Cole said use of the airport would not be inhibited if Oxford Aviation closes, because the site is a general aviation airport. It does not have a control tower and pilots are entrusted to safely use the facility.
“It’s essentially self-serve,” Cole said.