Williams Gateway Airport Planning for Possible Mesa Budget Shortfall

Feb. 23, 2006
Williams Gateway Airport may have to lay off eight employees, eliminate raises for the rest of its workers and cut back in other areas.

Feb. 22--Williams Gateway Airport may have to lay off eight employees, eliminate raises for the rest of its workers and cut back in other areas if Mesa slashes its subsidy, officials said at an airport authority board meeting Tuesday.

But the airport's budget situation is much more fluid than Mesa's, which rides on a May tax election.

Williams Gateway officials are in talks with Phoenix about the possibility of the larger city taking a seat on the airport authority's board.

If Phoenix does, it will join Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and the Gila River Indian Community as an airport owner and financial backer.

This could stabilize the airport's budget if Mesa does cut funding by $1.25 million, which city officials have said could happen if voters nix a new property tax and sales tax increase.

But the airport's board members made it clear Tuesday they want to be clued in to the direction of these talks before they get much further.

"We've been paying into this for 10 years, and we don't want a bunch of people coming in from Phoenix, throwing in some money and telling us how to run this airport," Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman said.

The four governments are currently paying $3.4 million annually, with the understanding they'll get a return on their investment when the airport becomes profitable.

Almost three-quarters of that money, $2.5 million, is coming from Mesa, giving that city control in the very rare instances when the board vote is weighted by financial contribution to break a tie vote.

The airport is near Power and Ray roads in southeast Mesa, near the Gilbert and Queen Creek borders.

Williams Gateway has tried to position itself as a reliever to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and its first scheduled service, to the Las Vegas area, is set to begin in April.

Phoenix has chipped in $360,000 over the last three years to Gateway's marketing budget, Gateway executive director Lynn Kusy said, and Sky Harbor staff have provided other assistance.

"This would formalize the relationship we've had with Phoenix for a long time," Kusy said. He said he should have an agreement to bring to the board at its March or April meeting.

Kusy agreed to hold a study session with the board before it's asked to vote on any deal with Phoenix. If job cuts become necessary, Kusy hopes they could come from retirements and departures rather than layoffs.

The Chandler City Council will discuss joining the airport board Thursday, but there appears to be little interest, and a staff report recommends against it.