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By WILL BRUMLEVE
Paxton Record editor
PAXTON — The Paxton City Council has opted to discontinue negotiations with a prospective fixed base operator (FBO) for the Paxton Municipal Airport who also wants to run a skydiving school at the facility on the city’s west edge.
But aldermen still appear open to the idea of resuming talks with Gifford resident Jef LeRette if the council’s airport committee can agree on a “vision” for the airport next month.
With all council members present, the airport committee met Dec. 13 to discuss whether to continue negotiating with LeRette, who recently resubmitted a proposal the council had rejected earlier this year to lease a city-owned hangar at the airport and become the facility’s FBO.
LeRette, who also has proposed to operate a skydiving school at the facility, revised his proposal with the hopes of alleviating some of the concerns that had been raised by aldermen — particularly concerns about LeRette’s intentions to serve alcohol after skydiving jumps and hold various events at the airport.
Newly appointed Airport Committee Chairman Marc Amore read portions of an email sent from LeRette to former committee chairman Brad Marshall and Mayor Bill
Ingold, explaining that LeRette would be willing to restrict alcohol consumption to the FBO hangar and only after dusk.
LeRette also offered to withdraw his request to hold events other than those that are “airport-related activities.”
But the committee — Amore, Josh Garrell, Alan Meyer and Rick Wolf — was still not convinced moving forward would be the best idea at this point. All four committee members voted “no” on restarting negotiations.
The committee’s primary concern was disagreement about what types of activities or businesses should or should not be permitted at the airport. Aldermen pointed out that the city council needs to decide if it wants to permit activities at the airport that involve alcohol consumption, for example.
“We need to figure out what we want first; then we can renegotiate (with LeRette),” Garrell said.
The city also has no clear longterm vision for the airport’s use, Meyer said.
The airport committee made plans to discuss its goals for the facility during a meeting called for Monday, Jan. 14, immediately following the city council’s regular monthly meeting. As a starting point, the committee plans to review the lease formerly held by the airport’s most recent FBO, John Rash.
Alderman Del Bruens said it might be time to start thinking about other ways, besides skydiving, to utilize the airport. He said it might be a good time to explore ways to attract new business there, especially now that the facility is included in Paxton’s newly implemented tax increment financing district.
Alderman Bill Goben agreed.
“With the TIF, you can set your standards higher,” Goben said.
Goben said the airport needs a “real FBO” — one like those stationed at other airports, where the FBO also operates as an airplane mechanic. Goben said LeRette, who works full time in Danville, would not necessarily be the best fit.
Paxton’s airport currently has no FBO, requiring the city to pay city employees overtime to go to the airport after business hours on weekdays and weekends to turn on the fuel pumps whenever pilots need to fuel up.
Meanwhile, Amore said having the airport used for skydiving “wouldn’t be a bad idea.” Some aldermen have expressed concerns about liability issues if skydiving is allowed and an accident occurs; however, Amore said the city’s attorney, Bob Martensen, has indicated that the city should be able to beat any lawsuit by requiring each skydiver to sign a waiver before jumps.
In explaining his reasons for voting against re-opening negotiations with LeRette, Amore said one of his concerns was the amount of time it has taken to negotiate the lease with LeRette and the likelihood that it might take several more months to get a lease signed.
“Mr. LeRette’s (skydiving) season starts in February or March, so I just don’t see us conceivably getting everything done in that time frame,” Amore said, “based on the historical dealings the council has had with him in the past.”
The council had been negotiating the proposed lease with LeRette since November 2009, Amore said.
LeRette told the committee that the airport has “huge potential.”
In his proposal to the city, LeRette said he might offer some skydiving exhibition events that might bring large crowds to Paxton, and that more activity at the airport might also help the city have a better chance of being awarded grants. The city tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to get a grant for the resurfacing of its aging runway.