RALEIGH — Guidelines the city had hoped would kill a bill to remove the Rowan County Airport from Salisbury city limits didn’t stop the proposed legislation, which passed a state house subcommittee unanimously Thursday and moved on to the Finance Committee.
Public comment was not allowed at the subcommittee meeting, where five members including two Democrats voted for the bill. The public can weigh in when the de-annexation request goes before the full committee, likely within the next two weeks.
“It passed unanimously with bipartisan support,” N.C. Rep. Carl Ford, a Republican from Rowan County, said after the subcommittee meeting.
Ford sponsors the bill in the house, and N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, also a Republican who represents Rowan, sponsors an identical bill in the senate.
“I’m normally realistic, but this time I’ve got to say I’m a little optimistic,” Ford said. “But I don’t count my chickens before they hatch. Never have.”
Ford persuaded the subcommittee the bill met criteria set out in a list of guidelines for members to consider when deciding annexation and de-annexation legislation. The city had called the guidelines a “clear cut” win for opponents of the airport bills.
The only questionable criteria was the agreement of all interested parties, Ford said. The city opposes the de-annexation.
But Ford said the house speaker’s office and other third parties have advised bill sponsors that the airport issue is different from other de-annexation requests because it involves no private property or residential neighborhoods.
“This was different because it’s government-on-government,” said Ford, a former chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
Ford said subcommittee members have been asking him questions for several days, even though Thursday’s meeting lasted less than 30 minutes.
“They did their homework,” Ford said.
The effort to remove the airport from the city limits gained momentum when a senate committee voted 17-0 to pass Brock’s bill, Ford said.
“It has been a lot of hard work, and there is a lot of hard work yet to go,” Ford said.
All state lawmakers who represent Rowan County support pulling the airport out of Salisbury. But N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican, said their fight isn’t over.
“When it goes to Finance, I’m sure it will be more lively,” Warren said.
The business-minded majority of the General Assembly sees benefit in reunifying the airport under one government authority, Warren said.
“It’s most advantageous for the airport’s growth and development,” he said.
Warren said the interpretation of how the bill met the criteria for de-annexation may have been more lenient in the subcommittee.
Most people view the bills as an effort to place the airport under one regulatory and taxing authority, which would help the entire county, Warren said.
City officials did not attend the subcommittee meeting but provided these arguments against removing the airport from Salisbury:
• The city partnered with Rowan County on an Airport Development Zone Agreement to provide tax rebates at the airport, thereby making the tax rate at the airport the lowest of any airport on the I-77 and I-85 corridor.
The agreement also established an Airport Development Fund which provides a source for airport related infrastructure improvements.
• Rowan County has stated the city has not contributed financially to the airport since its annexation. Public records show one request for financial contributions made by Rowan County since the annexation.
This request was to extend a waterline to a new hangar and to pay 50 percent of the $90,000 cost. The city fulfilled that request.
• Rowan County commissioners have asserted that tax revenues at the airport have decreased because of the 2004 annexation tax. Data indicate taxable value of planes and equipment continued to increase until 2009 at a peak of $33.6 million.
Taxable value declined because of the recession, not because of the annexation.