The Barrow County Airport Authority hopes to take on an estimated $5 million expansion project in an effort to attract more businesses to the airport but is seeking the county’s involvement in helping pay back the debt on a construction loan for the work. The county’s return on investment, officials said, could mean more than double and even triple the amount of ad valorem taxes the county gets from airport use every year.
Phil Eberly of Lead Edge Design Group, the planning and engineering firm for the airport, told the county board of commissioners last week that plans are in place to construct a new taxiway and apron (tarmac) and two additional corporate hangars on the western end of the airport property in an open field next to the Zaxby’s hangar.
Under the proposal informally presented by Eberly to the BOC at its Aug. 24 meeting, the county would participate in paying back the projected $5 million loan by contributing an amount each year equal to the ad valorem tax money it would receive from the additional business at the airport.
The Barrow airport currently ranks seventh out of the state’s 103 public-use airports in with 111 aircraft based there as of last week, Eberly said. But with the airport’s current hangar space full, the authority is aiming for the expansion to accommodate high business demand and tenants looking to locate there. Eberle said tenants at airports in “neighboring counties” are eyeing a move to Barrow but did not elaborate on specifics. And while the airport receives federal funding from the FAA for projects, most of that stream of money is geared toward the main runway and likely won’t be available for the new taxiway and hangar space, Eberly said.
“We need to be creative to do this project,” he said.
The county has brought in about $1.3 million in tax revenue from the airport over the last five years at an average of roughly $258,000 per year during that span. With the additional business anticipated to be brought in with the expansion, that number would increase to an estimated $650,000 to $750,000 per year, Eberly said.
While the proposal for county assistance would not directly involve the county forgoing to additional debt, the county would contribute an amount equal to the new revenue, Eberly said. He said that one prospective tenant has made commitments to pay $200,000 toward the debt off the top and that the authority could negotiate with other potential tenants to do the same in order for the debt to be paid off more quickly.
County commissioners seemed generally supportive of the proposal last week as a way to help ease the county tax burden on homeowners. But a timeframe for when an actual agreement or memorandum of understanding for the arrangement will be presented to the board hasn’t been established. County manager Kevin Little said last week that the proposal was being reviewed by the county attorney's office.
Eberly said the project could go out to bid this fall if the parties reach an agreement and that construction would take place next spring.