Base commander expresses housing concerns

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Housing is a “huge concern” for incoming airmen, Cannon Air Force Base Commander Col. Timothy Leahy told Curry County commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

With the transition of entire units of personnel from Florida to support Cannon’s new mission, airmen tasked to move are struggling with housing issues, he said.

“In Florida, they’re having a hard time selling homes,” he said.

Many members are looking at becoming “geo-bachelors,” which means they leave their families behind and come to Cannon on their own, living in the dorms, he said, rather than place their families in financial hardship.

“That doesn’t help the family and it doesn’t help the mission,” he said.

Commissioners unanimously approved Leahy’s request that they sign a letter offering support for favorable tax consideration to contractors who will manage future privatized military housing located just west of Cannon.

Giving special consideration on taxes will help insure airman have a quality, affordable housing option, Leahy said.

Leahy said if private contractors are charged standard tax rates for the properties, those costs would be passed onto airmen.

“(Special tax consideration) allows the developer to provide the best (option) to the airmen as opposed to less because they have to pay taxes,” he said.

Specifics of the tax breaks were not discussed.

Under privatized housing, developers take ownership of leased military housing and manage the properties. Military members rent the units from the developer, he said.

If developers are not able to fill the units with active duty military members, they have the option of offering rentals to military dependents separated from their spouses, retirees, and eventually civilians, he said.

Should that happen, he suggested commissioners allow themselves the flexibility to tax non-active duty rental properties.

Leahy also gave the following Cannon updates:

• Construction at Cannon is moving forward with work on a new fuel depot, which will eventually allow for bio-fuels, a new dining hall and airman center.

Cannon has two temporary hangars for aircraft, which were desperately needed, Leahy said, reporting an unprotected aircraft recently received significant wind damage to a rudder.

• Leahy confirmed there is an issue with traffic on County Road R interfering with one of Cannon’s runways, but he assured that it is “not a ‘the sky is falling’ type of issue (and) there are half-a-dozen ways we can fix that.”

• Cannon is moving toward concurrent jurisdiction with the county in the Chavez and Chavez West military housing areas, Leahy said.

Currently, the county has sole jurisdiction over the housing areas, which are located west of the base.

Through co-jurisdiction, Cannon fire, ambulance and law enforcement personnel could respond to the area and would be able to share responsibility for supporting those housing communities, he said.

• Col. Babette M. Lenfant advised commissioners that work to develop a railroad quiet zone near Cannon is ongoing. A contractor is expected to visit Cannon to evaluate what needs to be done, she said.

In April, Leahy announced the base was working to get a designated quiet zone at the Curry Road R intersection to resolve noise complaints from the nearby housing area.