TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, New Mexico - While international excitement builds for Sunday's historic Virgin Galactic launch, taxpayers in Doña Ana and Sierra counties continue to pay off the multimillion-dollar Spaceport America complex.
“It’s like anything you bet on," explained Shannon Reynolds, chairman of the tax district board for Spaceport America and a Doña Ana County commissioner. "Sometimes you hit the jackpot right away and sometimes it takes longer to get a return."
Doña Ana and Sierra counties split the cost of the state-owned Spaceport building, but not evenly. Doña Ana County is paying back 95% of the debt and Sierra County is funding the remaining 5%. Both counties have the same tax rate, but the revenue from Doña Ana county is larger because its population is denser.
From 2010 to 2021, Doña Ana County taxpayers paid $90.25 million toward construction costs for Spaceport America, Reynolds told ABC-7. He said they will pay millions more until the bond debt is paid off in 2029.
To abide by state law, both counties must provide at least 75% of what the county collects through gross revenue taxes for the Spaceport. The money must support capital improvement projects at the site. The other 25% of the revenue collected has gone toward STEM outreach in public schools.
The original cost of the site is around $220 million, according to a Spaceport America spokeswoman. That does not include the road that was constructed to get to the site.
Reynolds did tell ABC-7 that Doña Ana County saved $8 million by refinancing the debt.
The executive director of Spaceport America, Scott McLaughlin, told ABC-7 that Virgin Galactic has 180 employees who mostly live in Las Cruces. He said the state of New Mexico has 20 employees with the Spaceport who also mostly live in the city.
"Doña Ana and Sierra counties are going to benefit from are the jobs and the construction and the long-term benefit of space tourism," said McLaughlin.
After years of delays, southern New Mexico taxpayers hope commercial space tourism is around the corner.
"I think we’re all frustrated with it to some degree," Reynolds said. "Do I believe that the space industry and the space travel industry is going to grow to where we can get a return on that money? I believe so.”