As St. Clair officials continue to work toward banging out a workable 2013 city budget, a decision was made last week during the board of aldermen’s regular meeting that should help the airport line item in the general fund become balanced.
By a unanimous vote, the aldermen agreed to increase the monthly rent in the blue-T hangar at the St. Clair Regional Airport to $300, effective Jan. 1, 2013. The current fee is $175.
The rate increase computes to about 71 percent.
City Administrator Rick Childers told the aldermen on Nov. 5 that unless hangar rent is raised, the airport again would operate in the red, continuing the trend that has been going on for several years.
“We’re projecting expenses of about $30,137 (for 2013)” Childers said during the meeting. “With hangar rental at $175 per month with eight hangars full, we will be at very much below that (as far as income).”
Currently, eight spaces are being rented in the one remaining hangar at the facility with room for 10. The hangar rental provides the only source of income for the airport.
Charging $175 per month for eight planes computes to a yearly total of $16,800. Increasing the rent to $300 would bring in $28,800, or almost to the level of the projected expenses.
The Air Evac Lifeteam also pays hangar rent at the facility for its helicopter. It pays $300 per month in rent, which brings in another $3,600. The total rent collected would be $32,400, or more than the projected expenses.
The majority of the airport expenses are for insurance and maintenance costs, which includes mowing the airport property located on the north side of the city between Interstate 44 and Highway 47.
In discussing the airport and its hangar rental, Childers mentioned that the issue is one of the complaints of current tenants. Some of those individuals have filed a federal complaint with the Office of the Inspector General stating among other things that the city does not send the lease agreement contracts to the pilots soon enough.
So, the issue was brought up now instead of coinciding with the time the 2013 budget will be passed sometime before the end of the year.
In the blue-T hangar that still stands at the airport, prior monthly rental rates were $130 prior to and in 2008, $155 in 2009 and 2010 and $175 in 2011 and 2012. The airport lost money in each of those years and is projected to do so again this year.
Childers said he realizes it’s possible the rent increase will cause some of the pilots to remove their planes from the hangar and thus lower the incoming funds, but that’s a chance he said the city is willing to take. The city administrator also said raising the hangar rental rate to the approved amount was an idea generated by Bill Dunn, executive vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“Mr. Dunn recommended the increase,” Childers said. “He said the pilots should be responsible for covering the expenses of the airport.”
Dunn traveled to St. Clair earlier this year to take a look at the local airport and meet with local pilots, city officials and representatives from U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer’s office to talk about the facility and its future.
“He made those comments during that meeting,” Childers said.
A hangar lease proposal will be discussed during the board’s special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in city hall. Also on that agenda is the city’s third budget workshop.
In spring 2011, the city sought bids to remove two other hangars at the airport after City Inspector Jeremy Crowe in late 2010 deemed them dangerous and basically unsafe to use. Crowe had said that he found multiple problems with both the Atkinson and shade hangars, which initially led to a discussion on whether to repair or raze them.
After seeking and reviewing repair bids, the aldermen said repairing them would cost too much money, so they voted at that time to raze the dilapidated structures. Federal Aviation Administration officials gave their approval early last year for their removal.
The two hangars were removed last year.
St. Clair is trying to close the regional airport to make room for proposed retail development on the nearly 80-acre site. The closure plan has been in the works for years, and several documents have been sent to Federal Aviation Administration officials stating the city’s rationale. Mayor Ron Blum also traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to discuss the issue, and the FAA gave the city an outline of steps to follow for closure to be a possibility.
Blum and Childers have requested a final decision be made by the FAA by about Thanksgiving.
Closure has to be granted by the FAA because the city has used federal grants, the latest in 2006, to fund improvements at the facility.
Dunn said his organization he represents serves as a gatekeeper to general aviation as well as to the pilots who use the national aviation system. When he was in St. Clair, he made it clear that his stance is that the local facility should remain open.
Dunn also has questioned the city’s accounting system, saying it “leaves something to be desired.”
Local airport tenant Jim DeVries of Pacific has been the most vocal opposition to the city in its quest to close the airport. He has accused the city administration of diverting funds and “stealing money from the airport.”