Mayor explains need for Navy

Published 9:45 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the following commentary in its entirety, click here. At 1,700 words, it exceeded space available in the print edition.

by Jim Councill

There has been some speculation about my interest and/or motive in pursuing a contract with the Navy for use of Franklin Municipal Airport. The following is an attempt to lay out the facts.

First, the Navy contacted Franklin about the use of the airfield because of its need for training turboprop aircraft pilots and aircrews in the local area rather than Florida.

The Navy also knew of the closure of International Paper and the subsequent major loss of revenue to the city and the economy. They discovered a “real estate interest” in the Franklin field that allowed for negotiations for a service contract, rather than a lease.

The contract would be a cost-plus contract with possible generous net gain in revenue to the city. All these benefits were to be investigated and negotiated to determine the actual value and provisions of a contract with the Navy before any decision would be made.

A process was agreed upon for information input, evaluation, negotiation and public hearing before any contract signing or obligation could occur. Unfortunately, a hasty decision to terminate the process was emotionally made and arbitrarily ended negotiation. This violated our agreed upon process.

The Navy has sent out a request for proposals for the lease of a municipal field within a reasonable operating area for training needs. The only way for us to be considered is to respond by April 29.

Second, the big issue that faces the city is the tough economic times we are experiencing, which will get worse in 2012. Currently our budget process is working to close a budget gap for this year. The worst is yet to come.

In 2012-2013. $1.2 million from revenue sharing with Isle of Wight County will go down to almost zero. We will have a $1.2 million or more hole in our budget that must be plugged to stay even. That is my biggest concern. The Navy contract may help replace most and maybe all of that lost revenue each year for 10 years. If we do not replace the revenue loss from Isle of Wight County with new income, the city will be forced to cut personnel or raise property taxes.

The $1.2 million means that on a $100,000 home, a $770 tax bill will increase to $970 a year.

Not only could financial benefits be derived, but the flight pattern would be adjusted to eliminate the concerns of flying over the city, the Village at Woods Edge, Southampton Memorial Hospital or Beechwood.

Through the years, improvements to Franklin Municipal Airport were paid for by the U.S. government (95%), state (3%) and local (2%). The $2 million runway upgrade done last year cost the city $40,000. The terminal building was $300,000 and cost the city $6,000.

The airport costs $309,000 a year to operate. The city subsidizes the operations at about $92,000 per year. All this could be saved with a contract with the Navy.

In talking with a consultant who was packaging a plan for possible bid and use of another municipal field, he told me that the “lease” value without a service contract could be as much as $750,000 per year for 10 years. Then there would be a services contract option on top of that which could create more revenue.

So I ask, can we ignore the possibility of a new revenue stream of perhaps $750,000 to $1.5 million of net income to plug a $1.2 million revenue hole?

If and when repurposing of the mill or new industries come to Franklin, there could be some increase in revenue. That would then allow us to catch up on things deferred for 2-plus years such as salary increases for deserving city employees and school teachers.

All I want is for the taxpayers to know the financial challenges facing the city — a $1.2 million revenue loss in 2012 — and the possible solution of a revenue stream from the Navy contract.

The flight pattern concerns have and will continue to be addressed and mitigated. So, why would we as the governing body not feel compelled to submit a bid for the use of the airfield and a services contract, so as to negotiate an agreeable relationship with the Navy that could reduce or eliminate our projected revenue shortfall for up to 10 years?

In these austere times, how can we not explore a possible net $1 million-plus revenue stream for up to 10 years? Surely by good governance, we should be compelled to explore, negotiate (if chosen) and evaluate the contract possibilities for economic benefits.

You and we deserve to at least know all the facts before making a decision to walk away from a possible $1 million per year net for 10 years. If the city does not participate in the RFP process and negotiation of terms, the council can not make an informed decision.

Contact your council members. They are Barry Cheatam, Ward 1, at 569-9747; Benny Burgess, Ward 2, at 569-8156; Greg McLemore, Ward 3, at 560-8405; Raystine Johnson, Ward 4, at 562-3393; Mary Hilliard, Ward 5, 562-7237; and Don Blythe, Ward 6, at 562-3863.

JIM COUNCILL is Franklin’s mayor. His e-mail address is