County Executive Candidate, Jonathan Savage, responds to rumors that County Executive Brian Hughes is negotiating the hiring of a consultant to study the construction of a new Airport Terminal at Trenton Mercer Airport.
Savage, in response to being advised by members of local economic development committees that Mercer County is looking to build a new Airline Terminal, stated, “You have to wonder what this is all about and why now. According to studies that were done by Mercer County ten years ago a new terminal would cost $15 million. That was ten years ago so who know how much the cost would be now. There are three reasons why now is not the time to build a new terminal.”
“First, Mercer County, like the rest of the country is sinking into debt. According to the 2010 County Financial Statements, the County has over $300 million in debt. Worse, the unfunded debt deferred to future taxpayers is $144 million. When is it going to stop? What do the taxpayers get out of it, a few construction jobs? We know from President Obama’s last government stimulus spending spree that publicly created jobs are temporary and debt-ridden.”
“This brings me to my second reason that the expansion now is a mistake. How are the Mercer County taxpayers going to pay for it? The Airport has been a white elephant for decades. If we build it will they come? Airlines have come and gone over the last thirty years and right now we are left with one small startup commercial airline with only a couple of flights each day. Building a new terminal may make the Airport more attractive to a larger airline but what would happen if they came which would be unlikely in these days of shrinking air travel. It does not make economic sense to build a new terminal without a tenant.”
“This brings me to reason number three. Mercer County government is incapable of running a profitable airport. The reason is simple: it is run by politicians. One would think that an airport of 1,300 acres with two runways, adjacent to I-95 and midway between New York and Philadelphia would be the center of economic activity. Maybe it is not because virtually none of the publicly owned land around the airport has been commercially developed. Maybe it’s because politicians like the present County Executive, can’t make up their mind what to do with it. Following is a chronology to prove my point:
- As a Freeholder, Brian Hughes publicly opposed the new terminal plans of then County Executive Bob Prunetti.
- In a September, 2003 Mercer Business Magazine article he stated, “I think we need a new terminal. I get really upset about the term airport expansion. What we’re really doing is trading in an old, two-gate terminal … an out-dated, ill-suited and unusable two-gate terminal for a new, two-gate terminal.”
- One of the first things Hughes did as newly elected Executive in 2004 was to cut tower hours, and to release tail numbers of aircraft that operate at Trenton Mercer Airport between midnight and 6 a.m. to anyone who calls the airport, gives the time of the operation and asks for the tail number.
- In 2006 the FAA approved construction of a new terminal but this approval was rescinded when the FAA found that the County had not initiated any plans to begin work was advised by Hughes on April 28, 2008 that the County had no plans for the replacement terminal.
- Three months ago Hughes publicly refused to assist the only commercial carrier at the Airport stating, “To market individual airlines over others would be a mistake.”
Savage stated the obvious as his solution, “It is time for Mercer County to get out of the way and to privatize the Airport. I can’t believe that the County Executive is looking to throw more taxpayer money down the hole. Fifteen years ago, the County was given a portion of the Naval Air Center for development and nothing happened. Six years ago the Navy announced the closure of the Marine Corps Training Center at the Airport but the County was unresponsive to its closure process. No private development took place at the airport during the one of the best economic eras in history. Soon, the Air National Guard will leave and the white elephant will grow larger.”
Savage noted that the economic impact of privatizing the airport would be enormous, “With the imminent opening of the billion dollar Capital Health complex, the construction of three new hotels and the relocation of corporate offices of two fortune 500 companies nearby, it is obvious that we are talking about prime real estate at the Airport. Everyone is talking about jobs but we all know that jobs created by the private sector are the backbone of the economy. On top of that returning public land assessed at almost $50 million to the tax rolls provides real estate tax relief.”
Savage noted in closing that, “You can’t forget that the Airport is adjacent to the newly created Ewing Redevelopment Zone and the nearby West Trenton train station. This area has it all, planes, trains and automobiles. We need to have a County Executive who knows what they are doing, can reduce and shrink government spending, lower taxes, and put people to work. My administration will do just that, day one I am in office as the next Mercer County Executive.”