Cook column: Will bigger airport add up for Rowan?

  • Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 9:47 p.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, February 25, 2013 12:55 a.m.

Planes aren’t the only things that soar at the Rowan County Airport. So do county commissioners’ dreams of corporate jets filling hangars and buying fuel.

First, the airport has to go from being a drain to a money maker.

Here are a few numbers to enter into the airport equation:

$63,674 — Deficit the Rowan County Airport is expected to have when its expenses exceed revenues this year. Don’t worry, the county’s got it covered.

$153,562 — This year’s payment on a county match for a $2 million federal grant to expand the airport.

$217,236 — Total county subsidy this year to the Airport Fund.

“The only way to make the airport fully pay for itself is to sell more fuel and attract more investment,” says Gary Page, county manager.

Then there’s the issue of taxes at the airport. What’s being taxed and how much?

90 — The number of planes now at the airport, according to Page. That includes three jets in the $4 million range, each, one jet in the $2 million range and 86 single- and twin-engine planes averaging in the $80,000 range each

$21.5 million— The 2012 taxable value of the planes, etc., at the airport, according to the county tax administration office.

$133,838 — The county tax bill on that property. But there’s a catch:

$86,000 — The county’s estimated net tax revenue from the airport after applying an incentive.

$137,041 — The city tax bill on planes etc. at the airport.

$86,000 — Estimated net for the city, with the same incentive deal under an agreement with the county.

$0 — Tax revenue the city’s involvement takes away from the county.

$86,000 — Tax revenue the city will lose if the legislature de-annexes the airport, as commissioners want.

0 percent — chance the city is going to go quietly into de-annexation.

22 cents — The amount the county intends to raise its tax rate at the airport (dropping the incentive) if the city is out of the picture. From the incentive rate of 40 cents, the county would move to its full rate of 62 cents.

Plane owners would still see an overall drop from 80 cents in city and county taxes to 62 cents, “the most competitive rate of any of the other surrounding airports,” according to Jim Sides, chairman of the county commission.

$22.4 million — Cost of extending the runway 1,000 feet, including land acquisitions and rerouting Airport Road.

90/10 — The ratio of federal (or state) to local funds Sides hopes for in future grants to extend the runway. The government spends too much money, he said at one meeting, “but if they’re going to spend it anyway,” he wants Rowan to get its share.

80/20 or 70/30 — Other funding ratios that Sides said might be acceptable for projects at the airport, “one of the best means of economic development for Rowan County.”

Speaking of economic development, what about the public school system. What about public safety? What are the county’s priorities?

Last summer, when commissioners were weighing what to do with $1.9 million in property tax revenue, there was some disagreement about priorities.

$500,000 — Allocation discussed for establishing a temporary ambulance station using doublewide trailers.

$1 million-plus — Amount commissioners decided to spend on a new hangar.

Commissioner Jon Barber pushed for an ambulance station building that could also house a sheriff’s facility and a library. Then-Commissioner (now state rep) Carl Ford disagreed.

“The difference between that and a community hangar,” Ford said, “is that the hangar will be an income producer.”

$0 — Increase in county funds to the schools.

$31.8 million — County allocation for the Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Even without an increase, the per-pupil allotment increased by $22 because of declining enrollment.

Having fewer children is not a good sign for Rowan County.

Let’s talk about growth and how Rowan fits in to the state picture.

14.3 percent, 18.5 percent and 6.2 percent — The 2000-2010 growth rates for the South, North Carolina and Rowan County, respectively, shared at a city luncheon by UNC professor James Johnson. “If the South became the cat’s meow, the state would be the cat’s meow squared,” Johnson said. “Y’all would be a kitten.”

1.5 million — The growth in North Carolina’s population from 2000 to 2010. Of this, Rowan got 8,088.

3 million — The projected increase in the state’s population by 2030, according to N.C. Chamber of Commerce President Lew Ebert. Speaking at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce recently, Ebert said Rowan needs to prepare.

“You can’t wait until they’re here before you get ready for growth,” Ebert said.

How many of those 3 million new North Carolinians are expected to settle in Rowan? That’s one number I could not find. But if they arrive in corporate jets, we’ll be ready.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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