Airport board OKs $39.3M budget, 20 new employees, raises

The agency that oversees Charleston International Airport approved a $39.3 million spending plan Thursday for the fiscal year.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority approved a $39.3 million spending plan Thursday for next year that includes 20 new employees and a 3 percent merit pay increase.

The budget passed on an 8-1 vote. Board member Spencer Pryor voted against it after questioning a policy that allows the airports director to fill new positions not approved by the board.

Board Chairman Andy Savage said board members still have a voice should a problem arise.

Revenues are projected to climb 19.2 percent for the year beginning July 1 as passenger counts rise and airlines introduce larger planes at Charleston International, the state’s busiest airport.

The revenue percentage is higher than the 12.6 percent presented a week ago because of an error by the finance director during a budget presentation.

The new employees will cost $777,000 and be added to the 157 currently on payroll.

The number of passengers flying in and out of the airport is projected to grow by about 30,000, or about 1 percent, to 3.16 million from July through June 2016.

“That’s a little conservative,” said Judi Olmstead, finance director.

“We will continue to grow and are looking at other airlines,” said Paul Campbell, director of airports.

So far this year, Charleston International announced three new airlines: Canada-based Porter Airlines, Florida-based Silver Airways and Seattle-based Alaska Airlines.

Olmstead projects growth in fuel sales and said revenue from parking, rental cars, general aviation and other sources should rise.

The budget includes $2.4 million to upgrade three taxiways and add signs at the three-level parking deck to let motorists know when a tier is full or has a certain number of available spaces.

The police department will see the bulk of the new hires — seven full-time and six part-time.

Maintenance will pick up six workers to handle the terminal’s physical growth by 40 percent. Charleston International is undergoing a $189 million renovation and expansion to handle passenger growth. Work should be mostly completed by late fall.

The airport also plans to start operating around the clock instead of shutting down after the last flight comes in after midnight. That will require two more supervisors and an assistant manager.

The budget deletes four positions — a second attorney, legal assistant, public relations director and operations director. The first two of those positions were never filled and the last two became open from a dismissal and a retirement.

The expanded terminal includes five new gates and a new Transportation Security Administration checkpoint area. They opened in April.

Last year, Charleston International set a record with 3.1 million passengers arriving and departing, up more than 1 million since 2010.

The airport doesn’t levy taxes and is mostly self-funded, though it receives federal taxpayer money in the form of grants.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524