May 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Business owner refuses to sign on with new fee

Thomas Dus, owner of SkySurance at Lorain County Regional Airport, stands Monday next to his business sign, east of the main airport entrance on Russia Road. His business is at the rear right and is not visible when the corn grows high in the summer. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

NEW RUSSIA TWP. — The county has landed itself in a dispute with a business owner at the Lorain County Regional Airport over a sign that was put up in 1999 that county officials now want to charge a $50 per month fee to leave in place.

That doesn’t sit well with Thomas Dus, owner of SkySurance, who has accused the county commissioners and county Administrator Jim Cordes of playing politics with the future of the sign, which he paid to install and has never before been charged to keep up.

“I don’t think I should have to pay it at all,” Dus told the commissioners Monday.

Cordes first wrote to Dus on Nov. 13 asking him to provide proof that he had permission to even have the sign up, and Dus replied with a copy of minutes from the April 19, 1999, meeting for the now-defunct Lorain County Regional Airport Authority, which approved the sign during that meeting.

Cordes wrote to Dus again on Nov. 29, informing him that the circumstances had changed.

“Unfortunately, (the Airport Authority is) no longer in existence and we will now require a small monthly fee ($50.00) to enable your sign to remain on the property,” Cordes wrote. “However, you may choose to remove it or we can remove it for you, just let us know what is necessary. We believe that after receiving this benefit for 13 years it’s a small price for one to pay.”

Dus countered that simply because the commissioners have dissolved the Airport Authority and taken control of the airport it doesn’t mean his agreement with the Airport Authority also has been dissolved.

“It appears that the request to remove the sign would certainly interfere with my business, which I don’t think the commission intends,” Dus wrote in an undated response to Cordes’ Nov. 29 letter. “I paid for the sign with my own funds, received approval to put it there. As it appears that this is all politically motivated, I feel that I must insist that the sign continue to stay.”

Cordes said in another letter that airport businesses pay $20 per month to have their names on a sign near the main entrance of the airport on Russia Road. The SkySurance sign is about a mile east of the main entrance.

Dus said Monday that he believes the sudden interest in his sign is the result of his backing Kalo’s Republican opponent, Amherst City Councilman Phil Van Treuren, during the last election.

Commissioner Tom Williams, also a Republican, said he believes that, based on comments he heard Kalo make, that might be accurate.

Kalo, a Democrat, insisted that the sign issue had nothing to do with what was done by Dus, who he said he didn’t even know Dus had backed Van Treuren, during the election. Cordes also said the issue wasn’t politically motivated.

But it also isn’t the only battle over money that the commissioners are now waging with Dus, who has refused to pay additional fees that the commissioners leveled on tenants at the airport following their failed effort to close the facility in 2009 and 2010 because of budget concerns.

The Federal Aviation Administration rejected that idea and the commissioners imposed the additional fees to raise revenue for the airport.

Dus, however, said he believes the additional fees violate the lease he signed with the Airport Authority in the mid-1990s and, unlike other airport tenants, has refused to pay.

Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said the commissioners have authorized him to sue Dus over the unpaid fees, which add up to thousands of dollars, but he has not yet done so.

“We’ve attempted to talk it out, and he’s just said ‘No,’ ” he said.

Innes said he will seek to get a written opinion from the FAA that states the additional fees are legal. Dus contends that FAA regulations bar changing the terms of leases on airport property.

In the meantime, he said he would be willing to pay $25 per month to keep his sign up, and if he loses the fight with the commissioners over the other fees, increase that to $50 per month.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or

About Brad Dicken

Brad Dicken is the senior writer for the Chronicle-Telegram. He covers courts and county government, and has been with the Chronicle since 2001. He can be reached at 329-7147 or Follow him on Twitter.