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After recessing the regular meeting last week, the Wilson City Council on Thursday morning opted to allocate the requested $422,916 for a Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport improvement project. But the nearly half-million-dollar expense wasn’t approved without hesitation.
Councilman A.P. Coleman and others echoed concerns expressed by members of the Wilson County Board of Commissioners before it allocated $211,458 for the project.
“I think what is important is that the revenue from the airport is reinvested in it, so we don’t have to be here again in a few years talking about another $400,000,” Coleman said.
The controversy stems from an assessment of the runway and taxiways’ pavement that revealed the condition was below acceptable standards for aircraft takeoff and landings. The $14.8 million project received state and federal grants for 90 percent of the cost, but the remaining $1.48 million is split between the government partners with Rocky Mount and Wilson each having two-sevenths of the cost and Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties each taking a one-seventh stake.
Though the airport is close to the Wilson-Nash county line and has an Elm City postal address, the facility is located in Nash County, so the revenues it brings in go to the county coffers. Wilson city and county officials say a bulk of those taxes should be funneled back to the airport for maintenance.
There was some debate Thursday about whether the council should make the city’s allocation contingent upon Nash commissioners earmarking a percentage of the taxes for the airport. After two failed motions by other councilmen, Councilman James Johnson made the final motion of the meeting, which all members approved.
“The Nash commissioners cannot meet before the money from us is needed for this project,” Johnson conceded. “I think we give them the $400,000 they are requesting, but with A.P.’s motion that the airport commission work on our behalf to rally for a percentage of the taxes to go back to the airport.”
Once the motion was passed, Johnson added a final thought on the subject.
“I think it is important that we listen to what Councilman Logan Liles said about reevaluating where we are with this airport, and I hope it is quicker than two years from now,” Johnson said. “If there is no movement from Nash County, we’ll come back as soon as we want and decide whether we want to be a part of the airport or not.”
Many of the councilmen voiced concerns that the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport is roughly 10 miles from the Wilson Municipal Airport, putting the two in competition with one another.
“I don’t see any competition,” said Dion Viventi, managing director of the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport. “There are plenty of airplanes to go around.”