McKinney residents who voted no to the city’s $200 million bond item to fund improvements and projects at McKinney National Airport — including the addition of a commercial air service terminal building — cited a lack of information, concerns around the environmental impact and worries about increases in taxes.
“There was such a campaign of opposition,” said Mayor George Fuller. “The opposition we heard was people were afraid it was going to raise taxes, and some people believed that it should just be private enterprise and that the city should not own it. But the main thing was taxes.”
Yet, the bond was not going to raise the tax rate because the city had the debt capacity to complete the project without having to do so, said Assistant City Manager Barry Shelton. However, 58.7% of voters still said no to the bond, according to Collin County election results.
Some voters were likely led to believe that the bond would increase taxes because of inaccurate messaging floating around on social media, Shelton said. In addition to misinformation on social media, Fuller said the bond language on the ballot — required by the state — regarding taxes might have confused voters.
“If you read the language that the bond was written in, it basically put us on the hook for anything that went wrong,” said longtime McKinney resident Micah Russian, who voted no for the commercial terminal. “If they were, say, five years behind schedule, like they are on the terminal that they’re already building, I mean, we would have been on the hook for that money.”
According to Fuller, the ballot said: “Seeks approval of a $200 million dollar general obligation bond. The city will impose a tax sufficient to repay the principal and interest.” Even so, the city already has a tax imposed that would repay the principal and interest, so the city would have had the capacity to issue the $200 million and pay that debt back without burdening taxpayers with additional taxes, Fuller said.
Others said that, while they knew the bond would not raise taxes, they felt there was no guarantee.
“If you read the bond measure, though, that is exactly what it is asking permission to do — increase property taxes,” said Kim Meeks who lives in Fairview but co-founded a nonpartisan Vote No Prop A political action committee to oppose the bond. “So a government can say they are not raising taxes, but who is to say they won’t do it? If voters said yes, permission has been granted. There is potential for a bait and switch.”
The city held two open houses to give residents the opportunity to view the preliminary results of the federally required environmental analysis, but Russian said they ultimately did a poor job of explaining and reaching out to residents.
“By the time they got it on the ballot, everyone was so confused,” Russian said. “I organized and got at least 60-100 people to vote no, everyone on my block, everyone I know. I was blown away by how many people were against this. It was a broad swath of voters — people on opposite ends of the spectrum coming together: Ultraconservatives, MAGA, super liberal, hippies all came out to vote no. I was arm in arm with people I’ve argued about stuff with here for years.”
Campaign of opposition
Beyond confusion and mistrust around taxes, many voters were truly against the idea of expanding the airport to include commercial service in general, Shelton said. While preliminary results from environmental studies showed minimal impact on the environment, noise and traffic, during the city’s first open house meeting, some residents, such as Andrew Harris, still cited worries around those factors.
“Most people that moved here, moved here and said, ‘Hey look at this beautiful, charming town that’s being run pretty well, and look how it’s conveniently close to airports but not where I have to hear them.’ I mean, that’s part of the reason why people live here,” Russian said. “That thing would change the landscape of our town immeasurably.”
Shelton said it’s hard to discern why people voted no but it’s something that the city is looking into.
“If it was all about the debt, then maybe another mechanism to build the airport is viable. But, if the people voted against it because they just didn’t want the airport, that’s a whole different story,” he said.
Michael Cochrum, who has lived in McKinney for nearly 25 years, said one of the reasons he voted no was because there was not an airline committed to making the airport their hub even though airline discussions, which began in late 2019, resulted in commercial air carrier interest, according to the McKinney National Airport website.
“These people are saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna speculate that, if we build it, we can attract somebody to fly out of this airport,’” Cochrum said. “In my opinion, the city should not be using taxpayer funds for speculative investment.”
Others said that, if $200 million in debt were to be issued, they would want it to go toward things like parks or updating infrastructure.
“If that $200 million is tied up in an airport venture, we lose the opportunity to use that money for other purposes,” Cochrum said. “My big concern when I heard the information was, have we talked to the other cities around us? If this economic impact is for the entire region, why are McKinney taxpayers the only ones taking the risk?”
Fuller said the project — a 144,000-square-foot terminal with four gates — would have been “transformative” for the region with an economic impact of nearly $1 billion each year. The commercial terminal would have added jobs and supplemental businesses that would put money back into the coffers of the city.
The commercial terminal was anticipated to bring from 2,780 to 3,280 jobs to the region, from $207 million to $265 million in wages, from $615 million to $850 million in economic output, and from $77 million to $115 million in taxes benefitting local, state and federal governments, according to the McKinney National Airport Economic Impact Study from October 2022.
“For all of those reasons — the billion dollar economic impact, the influx of other businesses and supporting industry — those things would have had a significant impact on residential property taxes,” Fuller said. “The more sales tax dollars we collect, the less property taxes we have to collect because the sales taxes make up a significant portion of our revenues.”
While the voters said no to the bond item, Fuller said the city will continue discussions about the airport that don’t include issuing any debt.
“[The airport] will continue to grow, both on the general aviation and freight side, and we will continue to look at passenger service as an option, but we will not issue debt,” Fuller said.