Navy project could prevent huge tax hike, mayor says

Published 11:51 pm Thursday, April 14, 2011

Click here to read full text of mayor’s letter.

FRANKLIN-The use of Franklin Municipal Airport for Navy pilot training could stave off a looming 26 percent increase in property taxes, Mayor Jim Councill said Thursday, three days after trying to resurrect the controversial project in a closed-door City Council meeting.

In an “open letter” sent to The Tidewater News on Thursday, Councill laid out a detailed, “no-brainer” case for using Navy money to offset a loss of $1.2 million in annual revenue as a result of the paper mill’s closure.

“The Navy contract may help replace most and maybe all of that lost revenue each year for 10 years,” he wrote.

The City Council, over the mayor’s objections, voted 5-2 in February to end discussions with the Navy about using the city-owned airport in neighboring Isle of Wight County to train pilots of turboprop aircraft that transport personnel and cargo to carriers at sea. Residents of north Franklin complained about noise made by the planes during two flight demonstrations last fall and the impact of the project on citizens’ qualify of life and the city’s fragile economy.

The pilots would practice touch-and-go landings at the airport more than 200 days a year, usually at night.

In his letter, Councill said that if mill-related revenues are not replaced, city government will have to lay off workers and cut services or increase the real estate tax rate 26 percent – from its current 77 cents per $100 in home value to 97 cents.

“We’re down to a bare-bones budget and down to bare bones on services too,” Councill said. “We haven’t given raises in two years, we haven’t done anything in two years except barely get by.”

Councill said the Navy’s real estate interest in the airfield from a World War II-era deed could result in a “service contract” rather than a lease.

“The service contract would be a cost-plus contract” that would result in a net gain of up to $1.5 million for the city treasury.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Councill said. “It’s going to be a nice economic boon for somebody.”

After the City Council’s February vote, the Navy issued a request for proposals from other airfields in the region.

The mayor wants Franklin to submit a proposal by the April 29 deadline.

He said flight-pattern concerns have been mitigated by the Navy and will continue to be addressed.