A pair of executive sessions conducted by the city’s board of aldermen regarding contracts dealing with St. Clair Regional Airport tenants produced no public discussions or decisions afterward.
Mayor Ron Blum and the aldermen went into executive session toward the end of their meeting Monday night after regular business listed on the agenda was finished. The board did the same thing on March 4.
During an executive session, contracts, personnel and real estate can be discussed, but no votes can be taken.
When the open meetings resumed, the only business conducted both times was a motion to adjourn.
Prior to the March 4 meeting, Blum had given the aldermen information regarding lease contracts between the city and airport hangar tenants. The information included the current lease approved by the board earlier this year, a proposed lease from airport tenant Grenville Sutcliffe that lowers the rent amount, and the leases approved by the city in 2000 and 2005 with AirEvac Lifeteam to house its air ambulance service at the local facility.
In 2000, James Barnes was mayor of St. Clair. In 2005, Mindy McCoy occupied the position.
On Monday, City Attorney Kurt Voss requested the second executive session.
“We’ve had some additional negotiations with the pilots,” he said. “We need to go into executive session to discuss them.”
Blum, the aldermen, City Administrator Rick Childers, Voss and City Clerk Chris Fawe were part of the executive sessions.
After Monday’s board meeting, Blum and Childers said the airport tenants will be contacted and updated about the contract negotiations. They said a meeting will be set to discuss the situation, if necessary.
Airport hangar rental fees have been a repeated topic for board members this year. When the aldermen worked on the city’s 2013 budget late last year, they decided to raise the hangar rates from the 2012 amount of $175 to $300 in an effort to help the facility operate in the black.
Audited figures from the city show the airport has lost money every year since at least 2007, when Blum moved revenue and expenses into their own line item in the general fund of the budget. The city has been trying to prevent having to annually subsidizing operation of the facility through general fund monies.
The only revenue for the facility comes through the hangar rental rates.
Recently, on advice from the FAA and the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division, the city has opened a separate airport checking account.
In January, in response to both a formal and informal complaint filed by a tenant regarding the previously approved increased hangar rental rates at the airport, the city decided to roll back the amount it charges tenants to the 2012 fee of $175.
City officials said they had received no complaints last year about that monthly amount.
Then, in February, the city received Sutcliffe’s letter as well as the draft lease agreement that proposes to lower the monthly hangar rental rate even further than what officials already have approved.
“We, too, are aware that it is going to take a lot of money that the city of St. Clair doesn’t have to bring the airport up to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) standards before they will even consider allowing it to be closed for retail development,” the letter reads. “The only way for the city to relieve itself of that burden and let the airport to become more self-sustaining is to get more pilots. The fastest way to get more pilots is to set a market rate of rent of $125 per month per hangar.”
The city is attempting to close the airport on the north side of town between Interstate 44 and Highway 47 to make way for retail development. Permission must be granted by the FAA because the city obtained federal grants to make improvements at the facility.
In discussing Sutcliffe’s letter, City Administrator Rick Childers recommended that the aldermen “approve us forwarding this to MoDOT Aviation for review.”
Blum agreed, adding that the city that has the authority to set hangar rates, not the tenants.
The hangar rental rate complaint is one of several filed with the FAA by at least one of the pilots, who claimed increasing the rent was “unjustly discriminatory and unreasonable.” St. Clair airport tenant Jim DeVries, who lives in Pacific, has been the most vocal of the small handful of airport tenants who are opposed to St. Clair’s attempt to close the facility.
He previously has filed other complaints with the FAA. One complaint stated that the city is “stealing money from the airport.”
None of the tenants who rent hangar space at the airport live in St. Clair.