Cessna, the small-aircraft manufacturer, wants $4 million worth of improvements at the Bend Airport, including longer runways and a control tower. One way to get the money for those amenities would be to create an urban renewal district covering more than 500 acres around the airport. The district wouldn't levy new taxes on existing properties, but it would absorb any increase in tax revenues that developed after its creation.
Cessna has been pushing hard for the urban renewal district, with the backing of the City of Bend. But because the airport lies outside the city limits, the Deschutes County Commission also must approve it. Last week, though, Commissioners Tammy Melton and Dennis Luke killed the plan by stating they wouldn't vote for it.
We think they made the right call.
Cessna is a good company to have in Central Oregon. It employs about 500 people at (by local standards) decent wages. The other aircraft manufacturer based at the airport, Epic, also is an asset to the economy.
The problem with giving Cessna what it wants is that the new urban renewal district would divert future tax dollars away from important public services, including the county sheriff's department and a rural fire protection district. According to county estimates, the fire district alone could lose something like $32,000 a year.
As Tammy Melton put it, the choice was between paying for the airport expansion, which would be nice, and ensuring adequate funds for public safety, which is essential. She and Luke chose, correctly, to support the essential services.
Commissioner Mike Daly, dissenting, hinted that Cessna might pack up and move away if it doesn't get the airport improvements it wants. "Cessna is here, and they don't have to be here - they can be gone tomorrow," he was quoted. Our feeling is that if Cessna's commitment to the Bend area is that shallow, it probably will skip town anyway as soon as somebody else offers it a sweeter deal.
And it's not as if there isn't already a juicy carrot to dangle in front of Cessna and Epic: They can apply for up to three years' worth of property tax abatement under the airport enterprise zone designation the state approved last spring.
Melton would like to hold off on creating the urban renewal district until an airport master plan has been approved, a process that could take about a year. We think that's a sensible approach. The master plan should give the county a clearer long-term picture of how the airport needs to grow, how long it will take and how to pay for it.
Melton and Luke are making sure county taxpayers get what they need, even if that means not giving Cessna what it wants right away. For taking the responsible approach, here's the GLASS SLIPPER.