Following a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 10, the board of Spokane County Commissioners voted unanimously to support Proposition 1 in the upcoming election, which would collect property taxes to eliminate encroachment on Fairchild Air Force Base.
An estimated $18 million would be collected over nine years across the county to pay for the purchase of a mobile home park south of Highway 2 and in the Accident Potential Zone leading to Fairchild’s runaway. That money would also be allocated to finding a proper replacement location for residents outside of the APZ.
If discussions and purchases are made in a timely manner, however, that amount could drop and taxpayers could see the timeline for their contribution reduced.
A handful of the dozen or so gathered in the audience spoke in favor of the proposition, which will come before voters in the November election.
Greater Spokane Incorporated President and CEO Rich Hadley urged the board of commissioners to have a unified voice in support of the proposition, and noted the importance of the issue to the region.
“I think Fairchild is at risk. It doesn’t look like that on any given day, but I think it is if we don’t act proactively as a region on its behalf,” he said.
Hadley said the encroachment posed by the density of residents in APZ Two have counted against Fairchild twice in the last decade, first with a round of Base Closure and Realignment, and then just recently with the KC-46A tanker siting process.
“I’m not saying that’s the only reason, but it is an element of the reason,” he said, regarding why tankers were placed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas instead of Spokane.
He also mentioned sequestration cuts in the military, pointing out that another round of BRAC could come through the armed forces, as facility upkeep costs continue to go up, and there are fewer personnel to maintain them.
After facing several rounds of BRAC, Hadley said the region was still doing well, as well as the state, in retaining military bases.
“We’ve been through four BRACs now, and we’re still here,” he said. “The state of Washington hasn’t lost a base. Every time we get close to another base closure process, the low-hanging fruit has been taken and I just think we have to do everything we can to not have a mark against us.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Hadley pointed out that Fairchild has an economic impact of around $1.1 to $1.3 billion, and is the region’s largest employer. When factoring in the base’s extended reach, he asked voters to weigh the difference: around $11.7 billion in Fairchild’s impact or $18 million to help reinforce its presence in the community by removing encroachment.
Bill Savitz, co-chair for GSI’s Forward Fairchild committee, said the base lost four points out of 100 possible on the KC-46A siting checklist due to encroachment. That part of the list isn’t a weighted grade, and is simply given a pass or fail, which counted against Fairchild. Even a small amount of four points could have swayed the decision in Kansas’ favor.
Also speaking at the meeting was Sandra Jarrard, Director of Public Policy for GSI, reinforced previous arguments by saying 85 percent of residents in the area said they would be willing to move if an opportunity came their way. The numbers reflected a survey conducted by various agencies working with Airway Heights to gauge public interest in the density reduction project last year.
Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said the city will rezone the property in question once purchased so homes won’t be backfilled. The property is likely to be rezoned as industrial once everything is completed.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said population density around an Air Force base isn’t compatible, and called to protect residents in the area by providing better housing away from the base’s flightpath. He also noted the community’s regular support of Fairchild throughout the years.
Concluding the hearing, Commissioner Al French said, when acquired, the mobile home properties will receive deed restrictions to prevent any future encroachment on Fairchild.
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.