Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SALISBURY — Despite receiving a letter from the city asking for a joint meeting, Rowan County commissioners forged ahead, voting to ask lawmakers to de-annex the Rowan County airport.
Commissioners voted 3-1 to ask legislators for the former county-owned property just days after Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson proposed a split tax plan that would reduce tax rates for airport tenants. In a letter Monday, Woodson said the two boards could find other options at a joint meeting.
But the commissioners weren’t having it.
Chairman Jim Sides, along with vice chairman Craig Pierce and commissioner Mike Caskey voted for de-annexation Monday evening. Commissioner Jon Barber voted against.
Sides, who has for years opposed the 2004 and 2006 annexations, said his support for de-annexation wasn’t “retribution or a payback” against the city.
But Sides made it clear past decisions with regards to the city’s handling of the airport factored into his vote.
“This is not us versus them,” Sides said. “This is about economic development.”
Commissioner Barber said he didn’t disagree with the criticism posed toward the airport’s annexation, but voted against because he wanted to speak with the city. Commissioner Chad Mitchell was unable to make the meeting because of a trip to Washington, D.C.
“We must resolve our differences locally and not take our inability to work together to Raleigh,” Barber said.
Barber also pointed out that time wasn’t an issue and the board could wait to hear from the city council on other options before voting.
In a letter Monday, Woodson requested a joint meeting to discuss a joint effort to develop the airport property.
We “request that this agenda item be tabled and discussed at a joint meeting of both the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Salisbury City Council, called at your convenience,” the mayor wrote.
On Friday, Woodson suggested the city and county property tax rates at the airport each be 35 cents per $100 valuation, a 70 cent total.
But despite requests for more consideration, commissioners said it was time to act.
Sides said the city doubled the tax rate on airport tenants following the “cherry picked” annexation. That move, he said, has hurt prospective corporate clients looking to move to the county.
“Major development at the airport has been virtually non-existent since the annexation,” he said.
Sides also said the only airport property annexed was the portion that had taxable value.
Following the vote, a portion of those in attendance stood, clapping.
City officials hoped the airport’s development would be a point of pride when looking back at the cooperative effort.
Working with the county was a priority at the city’s retreat last week, as county and city official try to move past a contentious central office issue.
Earlier this month, commissioners voted against funding the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s proposed downtown central office. The city later said they would consider funding the entirety of it themselves.
Sides said the commissioners’ decision wasn’t a response to the central office funding.
“We just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “They never should have annexed the airport.”
Along with the tax reduction, commissioners plan to continue developing the airport property.
The county intends to spend $1.7 million on a new hanger at the airport, $1.3 of that in cash, Sides said.
“The county feels confident that with a reduced tax rate affected by de-annexation, a corporate client will occupy this hanger soon after construction,” he said.
Sides also hopes to secure state and federal grants to help pay for a runway extension.
By investing in the airport, he said, economic development coming into Rowan will spread into the local communities.
Commissioners hope to extend the runway from 5,500-feet to 6,500-feet, which would attract more clients.
With federal and state grants, Sides said, the county typically pays 10 percent of the project. Sides would consider 20 or 30 percent, he said.
“We’re willing to step up to the plate and go ahead and get this extension done,” Sides said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.