GULFPORT -- Travel to exotic locales has ended for commissioners at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.
Long-serving commissioners racked up $209,946 in travel in less than three years, but began to curtail those trips after the Sun Herald reported on them in June 2013. Now two of those commissioners have been replaced and the third, most-frequent flyer, Travis Lott, of Long Beach, has supported budget cuts that include fewer trips for commissioners.
During the three-year period examined, Lott's travel bill was $102,989. He flew 28 times to destinations outside the Continental United States -- including Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Grand Caymans and Panama.
The current commission, with two new members, has put the kibosh on such trips.
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"Hawaii's out of the picture," said Gulfport's Commissioner Joe Spraggins, who joined the three-member board in September 2014, followed by Biloxi appointee Clark Griffith in July 2015. "We're not going back to Hawaii. We've
basically restricted our travel to the continental United States. We believe more in the staff going and doing their job than we do in the commissioners going.
"Our job is to maintain the airport and to make sure we keep the airport headed in a direction to prosper and serve the citizens."
Spraggins said the airport saw no new business from all the foreign travel commissioners undertook to recruit air-cargo business. Lott, Harrison County's appointee to the commission, conceded much the same back in 2013.
The commission's 2016 budget limits commissioners to $15,000 in travel for 2015-16. Spraggins said those trips would be for meetings with congress members in Washington and with legislators in Jackson, and possibly regional or national meetings of airport commissions in the continental U.S. There is no budget for commission travel to recruit air-cargo business.
The airport commission in 2014 contracted with a private company, Gateway America, to run its air-cargo warehouse.
"They should be the ones trying to develop the air cargo," Spraggins said. "We'll help them any way we can, but we're not going to spend a bunch of money on it and go to Panama and have a meeting. I haven't seen one dime come out of Panama or the Caribbean to the airport as it related to air cargo."
The overall travel budget for 2016 is $59,900, most of which the staff will spend on airline recruitment, visits with the airport's current air carriers, and training. In 2014, the travel budget was $93,600, but only $57,110 of that was spent.
The airport's executive director, Clay Williams, said the airport has reduced its budget over the last three years by $1 million, to a total operating budget for 2016 of $7.4 million.
Williams said 2008-09 was the airport's peak year for travel. The airport has since dealt with the loss of its only low-cost carrier, which he said had helped hold down overall ticket prices. Airline mergers also have made the market tougher.
In addition to cuts to travel and other discretionary spending such as professional services, Williams said, the airport has cut costs for property and casualty insurance and, through attrition, personnel.