The County of Kings is striking while the iron is hot.
With the provincial election coming up Oct. 8, Warden Diana Brothers sent a letter to NDP leader Darrell Dexter, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil and Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie. She asked for each to meet with her to discuss their commitment to fund the Waterville airport move. As of Sept. 26, McNeil was the only leader to officially respond.
Brothers contends that it was the province that approached the county about the possible Michelin expansion and the need to make the municipal airport land available, so the province should fund the relocation. If left to county taxpayers to fund, she is concerned the resulting tax increase could be too much, especially if the funds required had to be raised in one fiscal year.
Although the municipality wouldn’t necessarily have to raise all the capital for the move in one year, the picture painted by that funding scenario is scary for county ratepayers.
Take the following figures into consideration: a provincial relocation study states it would cost $9.6 million to build a stand-alone airport – and that doesn’t take into account land costs. It would cost an additional $2 million to build a 5,000-foot runway, as local aviation stakeholders would prefer. Another option, to move the airport to 14 Wing Greenwood, is expected to cost $6.7 million.
Brothers said adding one cent to the residential tax rate would raise $250,000 and adding one cent to the commercial tax rate would generate $35,000. To raise $6 million in one fiscal year, the residential and commercial tax rates would have to increase by approximately 21 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. The current residential and resource tax rate is 85.3 cents per every $100 of assessed property value and the current commercial rate is $2.287.
The provincial party leaders should make a commitment to fund the airport relocation, considering the county claims it’s the province that asked them to explore that avenue. However, we recognize that there are other possible funding scenarios.
For instance, if the county is prepared to divest the airport land to Michelin, proceeds from the sale could be used to help pay for a new airport property. If the county is prepared to give the land to Michelin, perhaps the company would consider purchasing another suitable piece of property for the airport and turning it over to the county?
As with other major capital projects, perhaps it could be funded in partnership over a number of years. The federal, provincial and municipal governments could each chip in one-third. Add Michelin to the funding mix, and it could become one-fourth each.
This is one of the biggest election issues in Kings, as it relates to potential job creation. The relocation funding question relates to another prominent issue, the tax rate.
We believe all provincial parties and their local candidates would be well served by having their leaders make some firm commitments to seeing the project through to fruition. The entire initiative could quickly go off the runway with Kings County taxpayers if they’re expected to shoulder the financial burden.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are no guarantees the Michelin expansion will happen. However, moving the airport and making the land available would make it possible.