For Full Story: Herald-Tribune

Article By: Rick Piccolo


The Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority was created by the state Legislature and is an Independent Special District under the law. In essence, the authority is a quasi-governmental corporation. It has a six-member board of directors, three from Manatee County and three from Sarasota. All are appointed by the governor for four-year terms. The board has the power to approve contracts, budgets and expenditures, to acquire and sell property, to incur debt and to set the operating policies of the airport.

The authority oversees a very complex and diversified operation that is like a mini city. It has its own fully accredited police and fire departments. The airport’s facilities department maintains all the buildings and grounds and employs various trades such as electrical, HVAC, plumbing, automotive mechanics, heavy equipment operators, welder/fabricators, and carpenters. The engineering department oversees all capital construction projects, which have averaged over $15 million of improvements annually for the past 15 years. All administrative functions, including human resources, purchasing, accounting, auditing and information technology are handled in-house by a group of highly trained professionals.

The authority’s fiscal year 2018 operating budget is just over $17 million but not a penny of that cost is borne by the taxpayer. The airport is totally self-sufficient through our business operations. In fact, it has consistently generated an operating surplus each year of $1.5 million to $2.5 million, which is reinvested in facility improvements. The airport also is one of the few commercial service airports in the country that has no debt. It also maintain a robust reserve of nearly $25 million to ensure our capital needs can be addressed as well as ensure that there is an adequate operating reserve to handle any contingency.

A Florida Department of Transportation study showed that the airport has an annual economic impact of over $962,000,000 on the community, with over 11,000 jobs derived from our activities. That’s nearly $1 billion a year contributed at absolutely zero cost to the taxpayer. Not too many government agencies can provide you with that level of return without taking any tax dollars to accomplish it.

The airport does receive capital-improvement grants, however, from the state and federal governments. This money comes from trusts funded by user fees on airline tickets and aviation fuel. The airport must match a portion of those project funds from our business operations. Sarasota-Bradenton competes with airports across the state and across the country for that money.