De-annexation drama with airport continues

De-annexation drama with airport continues
April 14
00:00 2016



The City Council public works committee discussed new stormwater fee credits as Forsyth County Commissioners are considering asking the General Assembly to de-annex the Smith Reynolds Airport to avoid such fees.

The committee met Tuesday, April 12, and went over possibilities for using  stormwater fee credit for the airport and other businesses who install structural preventive stormwater runoff measures. Charlotte and Greensboro give similar stormwater credits to their airports. Committee members repeatedly emphasized that progress is being made on the issue. Stormwater fees at the airport, which is off Liberty Street, have been a source of tension with County Commissioners for months.

Considering airport de-annexation 

The County owns the airport, which serves corporate and recreational air travel, as well as airplane maintenance. It’s run by an Airport Commission, which voted during its March meeting to explore de-annexing the airport from the city.

During a Forsyth County Commissioners briefing on Thursday, April 7, Airport Commission Chair Scott Piper said that the stormwater fees were making the airport less competitive.  County Commissioner Ted Kaplan, who is also an airport commissioner, said the airport asked the City for an exemption from the fees for its runways and taxiways, like the one given to public thoroughfares like roads. He said that idea “went dead” when it got to committee.

“Now the County has decided to pursue another way, another means to get relief for the airport that we own, that we are responsible for,” said Kaplan, who first raised the de-annexation idea last year.

The airport, which is economically self-sufficient and does not rely on taxpayer money, pays$118,000 in stormwater maintenance fees, which is 20 percent of its annual net income. The exemption would be a $53,674 reduction in the fees.

The County Commissioners will meet this morning with the cou-ty legislative delegation to discuss its annual legislative agenda with local lawmakers. De-annexing would have to be done by state legislature. During last Thursday’s hearing, County Commissioner Walter Marshall said he’d discussed the matter with both local lawmakers and city officials who believed this could be settled locally.

“All parties seem to agree this is a local issue we need to deal with as adults,” said Marshall.

County Commissioner Everett Witherspoon agreed with Marshall that de-annexing isn’t going to be necessary, but that something needs to be done.

“We have all options on the table and I think this is very important because this airport can be so much better than it is, it’s just certain fees and certain policies are hindering it from being competitive.”

Ultimately, the airport item on the list of legislative goals for today’s meeting was left vague, allowing for the commissioners to ask for a wide range of things to help make the air-port more competitive.

Airport stormwater fees

City staff first made a presentation on airport stormwater fees to the City’s public works committee, chaired by City Council Member Dan Besse, in October. In November, after what Besse said was miscommunication, the matter was continued when no one from the airport appeared. The committee heard a presentation from airport officials in December.

In February, the committee debated the item. There was no consensus on what to do, but committee members were leaning toward a stormwater fee credit. Besse instructed staff to explore that option, scheduling the item for this week, saying that fees had already been accessed for this year, and any relief they’d give the airport would have to be for next year.

Besse told The Chronicle he didn’t feel an exemption just for the airport would be fair to other taxpayers who pay the full fee, but he is more than willing to help in other ways like the credit. He said the city and county helping the airport pay for development is also being discussed.

“I am hopeful we will be able to come to an agreement,” said Besse.

Mayor Pro Temp Vivian Burke, whose Northeast Ward contains the airport, said she plans to have a meeting with residents who live near the airport about possible de-annexation.

“I’m concerned about how it would affect the citizens around the airport,” she said.

She said she hopes that the stormwater fee issue can move forward quickly with a resolution beneficial to everyone.

Stormwater fees go to the Stormwater Management Program, which preserves, restores and protects surface waters within the city from stormwater that flows from streets, parking lots and yards and can pollute bodies of water. The program is mandated by the Federal Clean Water Act for larger municipalities. Cities have discretion on how to fund the program. Winston-Salem is one of many cities that uses fees on impervious surfaces, charged by the acre for businesses, to fund its stormwater management.

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools paid $233,391 in stormwater fees last year, which is the highest in the city. County Commissioners will be asking its legislative delegation to create legislation to exempt local governments from the stormwater fees of local municipalities.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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