Navy back on City Council’s agenda

Published 10:40 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

FRANKLIN—With the deadline to submit a proposal looming, the issue of allowing Navy pilot training at Franklin’s airport is back on the City Council’s agenda.

Mayor Jim Councill requested the item be placed on the council’s Monday night agenda because he said he feels it’s imperative for the council to discuss the possibility of responding to the Navy’s request for proposals by a Friday, April 29, deadline.

He said that due to the economic impact of such a decision, he wants the council to have an open discussion.

“I think we need to have a conversation Monday night,” Councill said. “I want to give the city the opportunity to determine if it’s good for the city.”

Councill said a Navy partnership would give the city a chance to make up at least $1 million in revenues lost as a result of the closing of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill. He wants council members to get all available information before making a decision.

After months of informal negotiations with the Navy, the council, over the mayor’s objections, voted 5-2 on Feb. 14 to end discussions about the use of Franklin Municipal Airport for training of pilots who fly turboprop aircraft to and from carriers at sea. Councill had the issue placed back on the council’s agenda two weeks later, but council members declined to revisit the issue.

Shortly after, the Navy announced plans to seek proposals from other interested airfields in the region.

“I was under the impression that the previous decisions were final,” Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson said Friday. “I’m wondering what other information has come forward.”

Councilman Barry Cheatham, who joined Johnson in the majority on the Feb. 14 vote, said the issue shouldn’t be revisited because the “majority of the council thought it was time to stop and allow the Navy to look for an area better suited for its needs.”

He said he has not heard anything new that would sway his opinion.

Councilman Don Blythe, who also voted on Feb. 14 to end discussions with the Navy, said he would like to see more facts on the issue, but until he sees them, he would “pretty much stay where I’m at.”

Blythe said he was aware of a projected budget deficit in 2012 due to the loss of the paper mill but thinks adjustments can be made without having to further tax the citizens or rely on the Navy’s training exercises.

“There are a lot of excess costs we can cut,” Blythe said. “We have to make adjustments; we can’t carry on the way we have for the last three years.”

Councill, in an “open letter” to citizens last week, said property taxes could go up more than 25 percent if the city doesn’t partner with the Navy. He wants Franklin to submit a proposal to the Navy by Friday’s deadline.

Councilman Benny Burgess, who will be out of town and will miss Monday’s meeting, said he is not against discussing the issue but noted that his support of ceasing negotiations with the Navy has not changed.