Polk County has agreed to spend $1 million to help officials representing Lakeland Linder International Airport lure commercial passenger service to the growing west-county airport.
The county’s five-member governing board agreed via resolution last week to set aside the money to offset potential losses during the first year of any passenger service that decides to locate to the Lakeland facility.
The funds go into a revenue guarantee fund of up to $5 million, with other portions of the fund coming from the city of Lakeland and private sources, the county board was told several weeks ago.
The idea, explained airport officials, is to get commercial passenger service to move into Polk County, so county residents don't always have to go to Tampa or Orlando for air travel.
“This (the safety net fund) is something we hope we don't have to use,” Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz told the commission, adding that the city is also kicking $1 million into the “back-stop” fund.
According to airport officials, the city's money would be used first, if need be, then the county's and lastly, any money added to the pot by local commercial interests.
Mutz also told commissioners that Lakeland was the largest metropolitan services area in the country without commercial air service. That designation is assigned by the national census bureau that includes the joint Lakeland-Winter Haven areas.
Airport Director Gene Conrad briefed commissioners several weeks ago on growth at the airport and its surroundings, adding that the airport staff is already in negotiations with several potential commercial carriers.
Conrad and Mutz both explained at the earlier briefing that American Airlines is probably the best prospect for locating passenger service in Lakeland because it is already adding gates to its previously-established hub in Charlotte, N.C.
Also at last week's session, the county board okayed spending $2.4 million with a Winter Haven firm to make improvements to the county's Waverly water production plant.
CentState Contractors, of Winter Haven, will do the work of installing a new charcoal filtration system which will pretreat water before chlorination which will result in lower byproduct emissions. The improvements are expected to reduce the emissions and save water in the long run, said County Manager Bill Beasley.