Hangar Financing Weighed
An unexpected offer from a developer has sent the Moore County Board of Commissioners in a new direction on the issue of funding hangar construction at the airport.
Instead of voting for or against an Airport Authority request for an agreement on the financing issue, the commissioners decided Monday to recommend that airport officials study other options first. The motion by Vice Chairman Jimmy Melton, with a second by Commissioner Tim Lea, did not include a timeline.
What stalled the commissioners was the question of adding another penny increase to the tax rate hike already expected because of school, college and county construction costs.
"I don't think anyone's opposed to building hangars," Lea said. "This is no criticism of the Authority. That's not the issue."
Airport officials have asked the county to assist with construction of additional hangars to be rented to the owners of private aircraft parked at the county-owned airport. The airport needs a loan of $2 million and asked the county to apply tax revenues generated at the airport to help pay off the debt.
The subject was explored in detail at a March work session of the commissioners. At that time, and again Monday, the board appeared split on the subject, with Chairman Colin McKenzie supporting the Authority request and Lea and Commissioner Cindy Morgan asking questions about the proposed financing.
One difference at the Monday meeting was the absence of Commissioner Larry Caddell, who was out of the country. At the work session, Caddell appeared to be leaning toward approval of the request.
No one expressed opposition to the concept of building the additional 17 hangars for rental purposes. Opposing arguments focused on the financing part of the issue.
"It's a great idea," Morgan said. "I have a real concern asking people for more money."
McKenzie and Melton made strong cases that construction of the hangars would have a positive and far-reaching effect on the local economy.
"The airport is part of the life blood of this county," Melton said. "We're looking at jobs."
Melton said the payback in rental and taxes may not appear so great at this point but said the project would pay off in the long run because people using the hangars will bring more business to the county.
McKenzie opened the discussion by reading into the record a three-page argument in favor of the proposal, including background information on the airport's financial condition.
McKenzie said the authority did not ask the county to lend the $2 million but did ask assistance in borrowing sufficient funds to build new hangars. The airport has a waiting list of aircraft owners wanting to rent hangar space, and 23 have signed commitments to rent hangars once they are available.
In a presentation to the Local Government Commission in March, the Authority learned that it cannot borrow that much money without assistance.
The Authority then asked the county for use of airport-generated tax revenues to pay off the loan. In the past, these tax collections have been turned over to the county along with other sales tax revenues.
McKenzie pointed out that the airport has already lost several hangar rental tenants to Lee County, which is aggressively pursuing this enterprise. He said Moore County needs this economic boost.
"I would be remiss if I did not make clear that our current Airport Authority is extremely well-qualified to undertake this project," McKenize said. "These are honorable men who voluntarily give their time, effort and expertise for the good of Moore County and the airport. Their experience in flying, managing airports, working for the FAA, banking and airline management makes them, if anything, over-qualified to handle this project."
But Lea argued that the airport is not substantially different from other county departments that have capital and operational needs, and all are competing for tax dollars. He cited as one example the Register of Deeds office, which collects fees more than twice the size of the department's annual budget.
"It's not emotional," he said. "It's about dollars and cents. The Airport Authority is doing an excellent job. The airport has enough money to pay for it."
'Every Penny Back'
Elton Turner spoke against the loan request during the public-comment period. He noted heavy job losses throughout this area and said a higher tax rate will have a negative ripple effect on the working people of Moore County. He said he has talked with a number of people about the issue and no one expressed approval of the measure.
Acknowledging that the commissioners have a tough job, Turner predicted that economic conditions will only worsen with higher taxes.
"I would hope that friendships do not influence any decisions made by this board of commissioners," Turner said. "About 99.99 percent of the Moore County taxpayers would never benefit from such a decision, as this would only benefit the wealthy who own planes."
McKenzie said he had checked with other counties supporting small airports and learned that they had received "every penny back from the airport." He said the airport is vital to Moore County's economy because it brings industry, business and people to the county.
As for the airplanes, McKenzie said "you can't park 'em on your lawn or beside the road."
Hugh Bingham, the authority's treasurer, told the board that the airport cannot float the loan on its own because it operates on a break-even basis. He said top corporate officials fly into the county weekly to transact business here.
"There's a lot going on out there," Bingham said.
Examine Other Options
When the subject of securing a private contractor for the hangar project arose, a developer just happened to be in the audience.
"I'm a developer, and I might be interested," John O'Malley said. "I'm available."
Lea later suggested that the authority talk to O'Malley and find out more details.
With the issue still unresolved, Melton finally recommended that the authority be asked to examine other options, such as the use of a private contractor to build the hangars, to determine if they are feasible. He put it in the form of a motion.
Before the vote, the board bounced around a legal question about the past practice of turning airport tax revenues over to the county's general fund.
County Manager Cary McSwain offered clarification of the issue when he reported that the county has been returning the funds to the airport through appropriations for a variety of projects. He added that the county has actually been returning more to the airport than the airport has been contributing in the form of taxes.
Approval of the motion places another stumbling block before the authority because of a set of deadlines connected with the loan. County Finance Officer Lisa Hughes said the loan must receive approval from the Local Government Commission in early June in order for the airport to open bids on Aug. 7 to initiate the project.
If, however, the Authority does opt for private enterprise to build and rent the hangars, then commission approval might not be needed.
Hughes had prepared a computer-generated program illustrating the airport's financial condition and the expected return from the rental of the hangars, once complete. The county oversees the airport's financial management.
Gary Barnum, airport manager, told the commissioners that the airport does have other needs but expressed optimism that once the hangars are built, the airport will have sufficient funds to pay off the debt.
The proposed debt was expected to span 15 years with a 5 percent interest rate.
Two other items on the Monday agenda also pertained to the airport, and both received unanimous approval.
The commissioners adopted a resolution accepting an FAA grant for $2,370,350 to acquire land and easements in approaches and to clear obstructions from those approaches. In order to accept the grant, the county must provide a 2.5 percent match, amounting to $59,260. The FAA pays 90 percent, with 5 percent split between the county and the state. The county appropriates funds to cover such matches in the annual budget.
The commissioners also approved a cross-access easement agreement between the Authority, the Chandler Clark family limited partnership and the Humane Society of Moore County. The easements are needed to provide access to property owners whose land abuts the public road being closed by the state as a result of the N.C. 22 relocation project.
The easement will allow the property owners to have access to the highway through Waynor Road once the state abandons the discontinued portion of N.C. 22.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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