05/04/04 — Time out: Let’s wait and see what closing commission does

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Time out: Let’s wait and see what closing commission does

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is probably here to stay. But, you never know. And it would seem imprudent now for Wayne County’s government to make some long-term monetary commitments that are being considered.

Possibly, in light of Seymour Johnson’s high standing, this is taking prudence too far. After all, the base was judged by an objective board just a couple of years ago to be the best base in the Air Force.

The Air Force members who are stationed here, by and large, love the Wayne County community, and many seek subsequent tours of duty at Seymour. Many remain in Wayne County, or return here from other bases, after their military retirement.

The mission of the base is vital, as was proven again in the war against Iraq. Its 4th Fighter Wing trains crewmen and ground crews for the F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet. Its 916th Refueling Wing, a reserve unit, keeps KC-135 tankers in the air so that combat aircraft can refuel without landing.

The base’s location is convenient to a practice bombing range in Dare County.

And the community highly values Seymour Johnson and its people.

It hardly seems likely that the base would close.

Still, you never know.

The Department of Defense is in the process of organizing a Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, to select military installations to be shut down. The brass says it has too many.

Leaders of the Goldsboro community are doing all that can be done to preserve Seymour and to prevent interference with its mission by anything that is within the control of the city or county.

As confident as we may be of Seymour Johnson’s future, however, the fact that there will be a round of base closings next year clouds Wayne County’s economic outlook.

The base’s importance was reiterated by an economic study prepared for the North Carolina Advisory Commission on Military Affairs. The study was mentioned at a meeting of the commission last week in Havelock. It noted that Seymour Johnson contributes nearly $800 million to North Carolina’s economy.

Imagine Wayne County losing that.

The number of jobs that would be lost are estimated to total 15,000. Property values would decline, and the tax base would shrink.

This possibility, while remote, should be considered in deciding whether to ask the voters to approve a school bond issue of more than $80 million. The Board of Education has identified $82 million worth of long-term needs and submitted its list to the Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners must decide what to do, and indebtedness is one of the possibilities that has been mentioned.

The county is also considering other big expenditures, including several million dollars to join with the city in building a civic center. That project, too, should be shelved until we are certain of the base’s future.

It is unpleasant to think of the county being in a holding pattern while the closing commission does its work. But if you are jarred by the prospect of losing an $800 million contributor to the economy, imagine losing it with the county owing millions more than it already owes.

Published in Editorials on May 4, 2004 12:55 PM