Saturday, March 24, 2012

Marathon airport management likely to be outsourced

The Monroe County Commission on Wednesday gave County Administrator Roman Gastesi the go-ahead to explore outsourcing management of Florida Keys Marathon Airport this summer.

Longtime county employee and airport Manager Reggie Paros is retiring in June and Gastesi said a decision must be made.

"The airport is doing OK. It covers its bills and we have a little extra left over. I think it could be doing better. One thing I would consider if I get a head nod is to put it out for [a request for proposals] to outsource the management of the airport," he said.

Gastesi said it's "something that's being done throughout the industry."

"I don't know if it makes sense," he said. "The only way we know is if we try."

Mayor David Rice told fellow commissioners he's "encouraged" by the idea to see if it saves the county money and helps the airport grow business.

"Contrary to popular belief, that is a very busy airport; it's just general aviation. We're trying to put a lot of emphasis on the development of that economic engine for the Middle Keys. I think it's possible," he said. "We may or may not ever get commercial aviation, but there's still a lot of things we can do."

The airport has failed in recent years to support commercial air service. Delta bailed out of Marathon-Atlanta service after just five months in 2007, and Cape Air quit flying nine-passenger Continental Connections to Fort Myers in 2009.

A city referendum in February asked whether Monroe should aggressively pursue an airline to provide service to the mainland, and if a taxing district should be set up to subsidize it. More than 64 percent said they want the service but 71 percent were against being taxed to fund it.

Gastesi allayed Commissioner Sylvia Murphy's concern that an outside management firm wouldn't answer to the county. "It's still our airport. It's no different than it is now. It's just a contractor and they'd have to follow our rules and our directions," he said.

Marathon Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay, a longtime pilot and the city's airport liaison, said he's not thrilled with the idea of outsourced management.

"I feel we're better off with someone working directly for Monroe County or the city. I'm skeptical to have an outside manager, but I'm still listening and so is the council," he said. "If we feel something could happen not in our best interest, we're going to intercede."


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