Possible FBO at Paxton's airport being discussed again

PAXTON — The Paxton City Council is once again talking to sky-diving school operator Jef LeRette about becoming the city-owned airport’s fixed base operator.

More than two years ago, the council nixed LeRette’s proposal to become FBO. But this past summer, LeRette ran his sky-diving operation out of a privately owned hangar building at the airport, and no aldermen attending an airport committee meeting Monday complained about LeRette’s activities there.

LeRette did not present a formal business plan Monday but instead gave an outline of what he is willing to do as FBO and what city responsibilities would be. The aldermen directed the city attorney, Ross Sorensen, to draft a formal agreement that could be discussed at the regular February council meeting. The council could vote on it then or later.

LeRette would like to use the city-owned hangar for free. He would at his own cost remodel the bathrooms and office there. He would also take care of all summer and winter maintenance at the airport. Also, he would provide an employee on site for fuel sales from April through November and would have one on call the rest of the year.

He wants to take over fuel sales, including selecting his own vendor and keeping any profit. He also wants the lease payments from the hangar owners that go to the city.

But LeRette wants to be protected from a huge property expense. He gave the example of the $160,000 hangar door failing.

Street Superintendent Randy Swan told LeRette that the state fire marshal’s office requires online training about fuel tank maintenance, and Swan thought the trainee might have to be a city employee. LeRette agreed to maintain the tanks and follow state regulations.

Alderman Marc Amore said he thought some lease revenue should go to the city to build up a maintenance fund. Alderman Del Bruens asked about the agricultural sprayers who use the airport in the summer.

LeRette said the planes should be allowed. “But they need to pay. They’re tearing the place up,” he said. He said it is common practice to charge some sort of fee for ag sprayers. Sprayers have been using the airport for free.

Mayor Bill Ingold said the airport was a “wash” last year, with income and expenses of $35,000 balancing each other out except for an $8,500 infusion from the general fund.

In the past, several aldermen have voted to close the airport permanently. But that is legally problematic, since some of the hangar leases running into 2028. The make-up of the council has changed recently including the addition of pilot Rob Steiger, who over the years has freely given his advice as a citizen on ways to make the airport pay for itself.

Steiger said he thought the lease should be “hammered out in committee” rather than by the full council. That could still happen after next month’s regular meeting.

Last summer the council voted 5-3 to alter a private owner’s hangar lease to allow skydiving from it at the city-owned airport. That opened the way for LeRette to offer skydiving in Paxton. LeRette moved his skydiving school from Flatville to Paxton’s airport, where he rented a hangar from leaseholder John Rash.

If he reaches an agreement with the city council, LeRette will no longer use the Rash hangar. But the city will have to notify the two pilots who lease space in the city hangar to find another space. They have month-to-month rental agreements with the city.

LeRette said he will be happy to continue the summer open house sponsored by the local pilots’ group. He said he will utilize no and low cost advertising online. He said he would like to bring in an additional mechanic if demand dictates that.

“I want it to work,” LeRette said. “I want it to grow.”

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