Sept. 03--GULFPORT -- Local governments looking for every possible cut in next year's budget got a combined $345,000 surprise in the mail.
Letters from the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport Authority were opened in Gulfport, Biloxi and Harrison County, where officials were delighted to learn they no longer will be asked to each make the yearly contribution of $115,000 to the airport operation.
The Biloxi City Council learned about the letter during a budget workshop Tuesday while members were trimming expenses from every department. City administrator David Staehling said it was a good correspondence to open.
"I sent a letter back to them on behalf of the county for being considerate of the taxpayers," said Connie Rockco, president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. She said the $115,000 saved the salary and benefits of two or three employees.
"During these economic hard times, especially for the county, every little bit helps," Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner said.
"We always wanted to try to eliminate that subsidy," said Bruce Frallic, airport director. The county and cities have made payments since the airport authority's inception in 1977. The payments were reduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but Frallic said they weren't able to maintain the cuts.
This isn't a one-time elimination of the bill. "This is from now on," Frallic said.
Although the action will help the cities and county, Frallic said the airport management will be challenged to watch expenses and operate more efficiently.
After a record 2008, business was down considerably at 2009, when a dramatic rise in fuel prices cut the number of flights into Gulfport.
"We're up about 13 percent over last year," said Jeremiah Gerald, director of air service and business development. He expects to end the fiscal year Sept. 30 with 860,000 passengers compared to 800,700 in 2009.
"It's definitely an improvement over last year," he said. The airport hit a record of 974,000 passengers in 2008.
Gerald said the airport had the typical number of passengers this summer despite the Gulf oil spill. In an economy in which many airports aren't seeing any increase in service, he said AirTran returned and the carriers flying into Gulfport brought in larger planes to meet demand.
"That's why we were able to grow," he said.