More: Read about the potential impact of XNA’s deannexation here.
The Northwest Arkansas National Airport’s board of directors voted to detach the airport from the city of Highfill on Tuesday.
The vote came after failed negotiations between the airport’s authority board and Highfill officials to reach an interlocal agreement between the two entities. At stake is over approximately $600,000 to $700,000 in annual sales tax generated by the airport, known by its location identifier as XNA.
XNA CEO Aaron Burkes said the airport was never meant to be a member of a specific community but rather an autonomous entity governed by the authority. That changed before the airport opened in 1998 when Highfill voted to annex much of the land on which the airport now sits.
The airport-generated sales tax then goes to Highfill, which uses the revenue to pay off approximately $7 million in water and sewer bonds. The bonds mature in 2038.
In April, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed Act 769, which gave the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority the ability to detach the airport from the city by a two-thirds vote of its members. The board is made up of two members from the five largest cities in northwest Arkansas — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and Siloam Springs — and two each from Benton and Washington counties.
Act 769 requires Highfill’s outstanding bond debt to be paid off before XNA can separate, either through a lump sum payment or another agreed-upon payment plan.
“We were hopeful that we could reach an agreement with Highfill to provide things like road and infrastructure maintenance and other similar municipal services, or otherwise a sharing of sales tax revenue that could fund those services,” Burkes said. “Unfortunately, Highfill officials were unwilling to agree to anything of mutual benefit.”
Highfill Mayor Chris Holland said XNA had no intention of coming to an agreement with the city. He said the airport tried to make the Highfill the “bad guy” in the situation.
“That was their whole goal from the get-go; everybody knew it,” Holland said. “We hated that it happened, that it has come to this. I know XNA has said in the past, kind of painting the picture that Highfill is not a cooperative town and painted us to be the bad guy; that’s not truthful. I want to make sure everybody knows that.”