The Maryland Port Administration managed to post an operational surplus of about $1.4 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30, after operating in the red for the previous three years.
At the beginning of the fiscal year, the MPA projected a deficit of $5.5 million. But the agency that oversees state-owned marine terminals turned the situation around with cost-cutting steps, including eliminating jobs.
The financial announcement was made yesterday during the public part of the monthly meeting of the Maryland Port Commission, the MPA's governing board.
Adrian G. Teel, MPA executive director, said he expects the agency to continue to stay in the black and to have a $1 million surplus this fiscal year.
To cut costs, the MPA eliminated 72 positions -- 45 of them through layoffs -- last year and reduced the budgets for various divisions. The MPA also cut $445,000 from the $1.78 million it had given the city annually to help pay for the operation of fireboats. That move, which prompted the city to shut down one of its fireboats in December, left only one full-size fireboat in the harbor on call at all times.
Mr. Teel said the MPA decided it should not be paying $1.78 million for fire protection.
The city previously had two fireboats on full-time alert and two boats in reserve, said Capt. Hector L. Torres, a spokesman for the city Fire Department. Because of the budget cut, one of the active boats joined the two in reserve, he said. The city also operates a smaller, 24-foot boat to handle marina fires.
"We had no choice, and we had to absorb that cut," Captain Torres said. But the number of times the Fire Department needs the boats is relatively low, he said, adding, "The Fire Department feels fairly safe with the situation the way it is now."
Although MPA finances were looking up, the agency said yesterday that cargo handled at state-owned terminals fell 5.1 percent during the first six months, dropping to 2.57 million tons from 2.7 million tons. The primary reason for the drop was a 62.9 percent reduction in steel shipments, to 60,483 tons during this year's first six months from 163,178 tons a year ago.
In comparison, Virginia's state-owned terminals handled 3.9 millions tons of cargo in the first six months, a drop of less than one-tenth of a percent from the amount in the same period a year ago, said Linda Ford, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Port Authority.
However, the MPA said Baltimore's share of cargo traffic in the region between Iowa in the west and Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia on the east increased to 18.99 percent from 18.9 percent. Virginia's share of that market dropped to 24.9 percent from 27.16 percent, according to MPA statistics.
"We're doing a little bit better than holding our own," Mr. Teel said.
The commission also unanimously approved an overall $844,463 boost in terminal rates, the first in three years. Even with the increases, which amount to about 4 percent, the charges would still be below competing ports, he said.
Before its one-hour public session, the commission had a two-hour closed session.