Entities pursuing reconciliation on airport issue


First Posted: 5/1/2009

Mount Airy and Surry County officials are pursuing a compromise that could result in the city maintaining a stake in the local airport, instead of ending its co-sponsorship in the facility as earlier planned.
A divorce had been threatened between the two sides stemming from a $14 million expansion of Mount Airy-Surry County Airport, which supporters say is needed to help this area compete economically.
Its more of a reconciliation now, City Attorney Hugh Campbell said Friday of recent efforts between the local governments aimed at redefining their airport relationship. Everyone is trying to stay together in the best interest of all parties.
The municipality has resisted allocating a requested $600,000 toward the expansion project, since unlike the county it reaps no property taxes from the airport that would allow it to recoup the investment. Plus, city-based companies that once used the facility heavily have closed, providing less justification for that expenditure.
On the other hand, the county government and airport governing board have balked at city attempts to annex and tax the site, leading Mount Airy to announce it would sever its airport ties after some 40 years.
But with the June 30 date for that announced withdrawal approaching, the expected divorce apparently has been averted, with one key factor the longtime, joint ownership of fixed assets at the airport in Holly Springs. Mount Airys 50-percent stake in the facility, established from pouring money into the facility for decades, somehow would have to be accounted for in the event of a total pullout.
Rather than pursue plans to dissolve the longtime partnership, though, the city attorney and County Attorney Ed Woltz are assembling a new agreement under which the city would maintain its involvement, Mayor Jack Loftis said Friday. He referred to it as a compromise.
We will still be 50-percent partners, Loftis explained of the proposal. The city will still be involved. Mount Airy would continue its joint ownership of the airport, but not be required to supply funds for items such as construction of new facilities.
Since theyre collecting taxes for the airport, they will provide funding for all capital improvements, the mayor added, stressing the fact Mount Airy is receiving no such revenues.
While pointing out Friday that no formal agreement has been reached along those lines so far, Campbell, the municipal attorney, said, thats the way the city would like to see it move. Thats the intent of what the city is trying to do.
However, Campbell said there are still a lot of options and issues to be worked out leading to any official decision regarding the citys redefined responsibilities. No formal agreements have been signed, the attorney said, and nothings been presented yet.
Its still under discussion and negotiation.
Craig Hunter, the chairman of the board of county commissioners (BOCC), indicated Friday that the county government is proceeding with the airport expansion, while acknowledging recent talks between the two sides regarding the issue.
The BOCC has previously unanimously endorsed the airport expansion project, including a commitment to fund 50 percent of the local required match, and that has not changed, according to Hunter. Much of the money for the work is coming from state and federal sources.
The BOCC is not aware of any formal move or withdrawal by the city of Mount Airy on its endorsement and commitment to the airport expansion project, the county chairman added.
However, the city and county have recently been involved in some informal face-to-face discussions about revisiting the local funding match requirements and commitments and those talks are progressing respectfully, equitably and amicably.
Loftis said that in addition to Mount Airy maintaining its interest in fixed assets at the airport, the city should remain involved due to the fact its citizens are paying county taxes that help fund the facility. This means it would continue to have representation on the airport authority that runs the facility.
The mayor said it is hoped the matter can be resolved and officially considered by the city and county commissioners before the June 30 withdrawal date.
We are still involved at this point.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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