Editorial: De-mystifying de-annexation

  • Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 12:18 a.m.

If the proposal to de-annex the Rowan County Airport comes up for discussion in Raleigh again, perhaps committee members will ask follow-up questions to bring more clarity to the issue.

Commissioners and bill sponsors say Salisbury has done nothing for the airport since legally annexing the county-owned property several years ago. The assertion leads to a pretty obvious question.

Question: What financial requests did the county make of Salisbury regarding the airport that the city refused to fulfill?

Answer: None.

The Post asked the city and county for public records from every request the county has made to the city regarding the airport. County Manager Gary Page came up with an email exchange on only one request: extending a water line to the new hangar at the airport. Page initiated the conversation last August, and the water line has been engineered, installed and tested. The county will ask the city to pay for up to 50 percent of the $90,000 cost from an Airport Development Zone project fund the city established.

There’s some irony there. In April, Page sent Rep. Carl Ford a letter about the de-annexation, and said this about revenue the city has realized from the airport. “During the past eight years, the city collected $1.1 million, and made no overtures toward re-investing these funds in airport improvements.” He failed to mention the Airport Development Zone project fund, into which the city puts 25 percent of its tax revenues related to the airport, or the fact that the city has recently offered to put 100 percent of those revenues (about $86,000) in that fund.

The city annexed the airport in 2004. Contrary to county claims about how this “double taxation” hurt airplane owners, the taxable value of planes and other equipment continued an upward trend, peaking in 2009 at $33.6 million. After 2009, the city and county offered tax rebates to those paying taxes at the airport. Oddly, at the same time, that tax value started falling. By 2012, it was $21.5 million.

That suggests something other than city taxes was behind the fall in values — the recession perhaps?

The county has spent millions more than the city on the airport because the county owns the airport and is responsible for its operation. The city is not claiming ownership and is no more legally responsible for airport operations than it is for operating other businesses and institutions within the city limits. After annexing the airport, Salisbury became responsible only for providing city services to it — fire and police protection, water and sewer utilities, etc. It has done so.

The de-annexation bill sailed through the Senate on Wednesday. As it goes to the House, the bill may well be on a fast track to ratification. But let the record show that this bill does not stem from the city’s refusal to do anything at the airport. Nor does it stem from the city’s unwillingness to devote tax revenues to airport projects. Those are red herrings. The de-annexation bill stems from commissioners’ belief that the airport has no business being in the city limits, period. Why not just be honest about that?

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