Do We Really Need All That Improving?

Do We Really Need All That Improving?

By Fred Wolferman
Sunday, January 29, 2012

By Fred Wolferman
Special to The Pilot
OK, friends and neighbors, grab your ankles; it looks like Moore County is going to get more airport than it needs.
Never mind that the feds are going to borrow $3.1 million from China, or somewhere, to pay for it. Never mind that $341,000 in local room occupancy taxes is going to be committed to it. Never mind that commercial air flights here are about as likely as nonstop service to Mars.
I know the airport authorities say that none of the money comes from local taxes. Well, sort of. Any money from any government anywhere comes from somebody’s taxes. Just because the paper trail for this particular money does not begin in Moore County doesn’t mean your tax dollars aren’t being spent on similar projects in Boise or Yuma or someplace. They are. Money is fungible.

Consider the necessity of the upcoming expansion. It seems to be predicated on what will probably be the busiest two weeks in the next century or so – the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. This is a classic case of building the church for Easter, but at least Easter comes every year.
Does anyone really believe that folks and businesses rich enough to fly a plane too big to land at the present airport won’t find a way to get here if they want to? And how big are those hypothetical planes? We have previously had commercial service by pretty sizable aircraft on the existing runway.
If my calculations are correct, and there may be room for debate, it would take approximately 91,000 additional room-nights at local hotels at $125 per night just to pay for the occupancy tax contribution, all those tourists presumably arriving in airplanes too big to land here now.
Then there’s the bookkeeping. The point is made that the airport only needs these tax revenues for capital improvements – that it is “profitable” on an operating basis.
This is an interesting claim. In the real world, businesses must pay for capital improvements either from profits or with debt, which must be repaid from future profits. They must also depreciate capital improvements, which reduces any profit. How is all this being accounted for at the airport?
The airport wants to buy a Cessna 162 that it says it can operate as a profit center by renting it. This plane is available right now for the bargain price of $130,000. Maybe it is a bargain; maybe liability and insurance issues are easily resolved; but where is the money coming from?
From “internal funds,” we are told. What are internal funds? I’m pretty sure there is no such entry on an operating statement as “internal funds,” and why are these funds not available for the proposed expansion?

There also seems to be some confusion about what, exactly, the FAA is requiring the airport to do. I thought we just moved a road, built a circle and removed a bunch of apparently sturdy fencing to keep the bureaucrats happy.
Now we are told that there are more obstructions to be cleared and safety improvements to be made, but that the FAA is not actually requiring the planned 400-foot extension of the runway – the extension to provide accessibility to all those big planes not coming here anyway.
The question has also been raised as to whether it may be necessary to move the community college. Everyone involved says this is a red herring – that it will never happen. Let us hope so, but if there is even the slightest possibility, and remember, we’re relying on unknown future bureaucrats with essentially unlimited power, the runway should be left alone. Not only would such a move cost far more than $3.5 million, where would it go? Carthage is a nice spot.

The airport deal seems to be done, but it is reflective of poor analysis and poor communication. Maybe it is crucial to the future of Moore County, but no credible case has been made. Taxpayers are owed more. It’s their airport.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at fwolferman@ sbcglobal.net.

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