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Local Editorials

What We Think: Tough airport choice awaits

Dixon leaders face a dilemma about whether to keep the city airport open. Professional guidance from the new city manager form of government will help them to choose wisely.

There’s nothing quite like a deadline to focus one’s attention on a decision that must be made.

The Dixon City Council learned this week it faces a July deadline by which time city leaders have to choose whether to engage in an improvement project at the Dixon Municipal Airport.

The project would signify the city’s continued acceptance of Federal Aviation Administration grant money ($150,000 a year) and the city’s continued commitment to keep the airport open for the next 20 years. If the airport is closed before 2 decades elapses, the city would have to repay a portion of the grant.

City Manager Cole O’Donnell said the airport needs renovations – things like improving perimeter fencing and runway lighting – that FAA grant money could help pay for.

But if the city chooses not to do any projects this year, it would be dropped from the FAA grant program, and getting back on the program might not be possible.

The FAA grant issue has emerged during a time when the City Council has been considering what to do with the seldom-used airport, which averages five takeoffs a week and which cost the city $135,000 to operate in 2015, but had revenues of only $42,000.

A feasibility study commissioned last year by the city determined two key findings:

n Demand for the airport’s services is not expected to grow.

n Many local businesses surveyed said if the airport closed, it would not make a drastic difference in their operations.

Closing the airport might be seen as a blow to the city’s prestige, but doing so would save the city money and make the property available for other uses, such as a solar farm or industrial park.

Plus, Dixon area pilots needing to make flights could simply shift their aircraft to the nearby Whiteside County Airport in Rock Falls – a short drive away on Interstate 88.

Keeping the airport open, with greater focus on increasing usage and revenue potential, has its own advantages, as well as costs.

We encourage city leaders to continue studying the issue.

And we suggest that a final decision not be made until after April’s city election, where two new council members (among a field of three – Dennis Considine, Ryan Marshall and John Grant) will be elected to replace outgoing Councilmen Chris Bishop and Mitch Tucker.

After all, it will be the new council, which takes office in May, that will have to deal with the consequences of the decision.

The airport’s future presents a dilemma. Whatever choice is made, we are gratified that Dixon, with its relatively new city manager form of government, has greater professional expertise on its side to help make the correct one.

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