By Ben van der Mee
Commercial tenants at the Sutter County Airport are going to see a bump in rent as of Jan. 1, but the new year also might be when the county leaves the airport business entirely.
With one abstention, supervisors approved a plan on Tuesday to raise rents from two-thirds of a cent per square foot to 2 cents per square foot next year, with more raises to come.
But Supervisor Stan Cleveland, in acknowledgment of the airport’s beleaguered finances in recent years, said a pilots group interested in taking over the airport’s operation should get the process rolling.
“It’s going to have to be done and focused,” he said. “It’s time to make a decision for where we’re going to be in the short term and in the long term.”
Sutter County began studying tenant rates this year after the airport, which has added thousands of dollars worth of upgrades through grants in recent years, became a drain on the county’s General Fund.
Supervisors already raised rates for people tying down their planes at the airport, but had deferred a decision on commercial tenants — mostly a handful of airplane repair and cropdusting companies.
Under Tuesday’s approval, those tenants will also see additional rates rise by a cent every year through 2015, and see adjustments for inflation through 2015.
Jim Stadel of Stadel Aircraft said the board needed to work more with the pilots and tenants.
“Right now, it’s, ‘this is the way it is, and tough, guys,'” he said. He added he doesn’t need the 20,000 square feet he’s leasing, and supervisors agreed to allow modifications.
Pilot A.J. Hyatt of Yuba City said while there might be a need for adjustments, the county’s proposal, which originally called for rent hikes through 2017, went too far.
But Supervisor Jim Whiteaker, part of a county committee studying the airport issue, said while he backed eventually turning the airport over to a pilots group to operate, he wouldn’t be swayed by claims raising rates would send all the tenants elsewhere.
“You can’t sit here and decide by fear,” he said.
Cleveland said he hoped the pilots group, the Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association, could present a workable plan for the airport to move ahead by the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Although some speakers referred to the plan as privatization of the airport, the plan as discussed would keep the airport under county ownership but turn over management to the outside group.
The abstention on the 4-0 vote came from Supervisor James Gallagher, who said one of his legal clients is a commercial tenant at the airport.