Weather Alerts 8 View »

Taxpayers footing bill for trips on 'private' plane

Taxpayers footing bill for trips on 'private' plane

By Mike Mason. CREATED Nov 21, 2012 - UPDATED: Nov 21, 2012

LEE COUNTY - Taxpayers reacting to a Fox 4 investigation into the airplane owned by county commissioners...viewers upset they're picking up the tab to fly county officials all over the state.

Tonight...we're learning more about exactly how that plane is being used and who's using it. Four in your Corner investigator Mike Mason is live now with more details.
Taxpayers are footing the bill to book flights for county commissioners and staff members. Even though they use the plane to attend meetings and conduct county business, some taxpayers are upset with how this plane is being used.
This 6-seater Piper Navajo costs an estimated $1-thousand dollars per flight hour to operate, which includes all costs associated with the plane. The plane is used primarily by the Lee County Port Authority.....but county officials also book flights to jet around the state - and taxpayers are footing the bill.
Rob Weber: "Big waste of money, yep."'
Rob Weber is a pilot and concerned taxpayer. He wanted to know which county officials were using the plane and why. Fox 4 found in the past two years, tax payers have spent about $20-thousand dollars to fly county officials to places like Tallahassee, Orlando, Kissimmee, St. Augustine and Palm Beach.
Rob Weber: "They'd be much better off having a charter and in most cases when I was looking at these flights they'd be a lot better just getting in their car." 
To be fair, every commissioner but Brian Bigelow used the plane in the past two years.  And we're told it was for county business.  But there's one trip that raises questions.
On January 17th, 2 commissioners and 2 staff members flew to Tallahassee on the county's plane to attend the Everglades Water Supply Summit. Commissioner Tammy Hall says she also attended that summit but didn't fly up with the other commissioners - even though there were 2 seats available on the plane. So after the pilot made a 3 hour roundtrip flight to bring commissioners to Tallahassee....he had to go back up to Tallahassee 2 days after the summit had ended to pick up Tammy Hall.  That doubled the flying time to 6.4 hours...and at a thousand dollars per flight hour....that's a cost of more than $6-thousand dollars. More than $3-thousand of that spent just to pick up Tammy Hall.
Rob Weber: "It looks like they're using it as a taxi service, it's a personal toy for the county."
We asked the Port Authority about this.
Vicki Moreland: "I can't speak for why these trips were made for commissioners, you'd have to speak with them."
So we contacted Tammy Hall to ask why she didn't fly to Tallahassee with the other commissioners to save money.....we're still waiting to hear back.
Paige Rausch: "I think if the other commissioners and staff had been up in Tallahassee common sense would dictate you would have returned with the group after the conference."
Paige Rausch is also a concerned taxpayer.....who feels this era of jet set commissioners has come to an end. 
Paige Rausch: "Where we are in the economic cycle, we really need to still watch our pennies." 
The county has owned the plane for 20 years. Now - after our investigation -- 2 commissioners say they'll make a motion to sell the plane when the Port Authority Board meets in January.