REGIONAL AIRPORT Port authority puts hold on construction, marketing
The departed airport director will not be immediately replaced.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- To reduce the drag on local taxpayers, officials at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport have canceled construction plans and eliminated money to market the facility to airlines.
The Vienna airport needs $247,337 from both Trumbull and Mahoning counties to keep the runway lights on through the end of 2003, according to a budget presented to Trumbull County commissioners Monday. That's $68,000 less than what each county agreed to pay in 2002.
"This is really bare-bones," said Martin Solomon, a member of the Western Reserve Port Authority board, which runs the airport. "There is not much more we can cut."
Commissioners in both counties have voiced reluctance to continue subsidizing the airport with no scheduled flights and no sign of solvency. Eliminating the marketing budget helped reduce the amount of money requested from each county by $68,000 a year, but also reduces the airport's chances of breaking even, officials say.
"Less marketing, less activity; less activity, less money for marketing," said Michael O'Brien, a Trumbull County commissioner. "It leads to, no pun intended, a tailspin."
Over the past two years, the airport paid $215,000 out of its marketing budget for a study by a national consulting firm and for the advice of a Columbus economic development consultant, who quit after several months.
A plan to improve the taxiway used by private planes was also dropped from the 2003 budget. The federal government would have paid for $2 million of the $2.2 million project, but the counties would likely have had to come up with the rest.
Attracting more private planes to the airport is seen as the best way to quickly increase airport revenue.
"I think we all have come to the conclusion that at least for the near future, general aviation is our only growth area," Solomon said.
The airport will lose half the federal money if it does not use it this year, said Steve Bowser, the airport's executive office administrator.
The port authority is seeking a private developer to build more hangars on airport property, to offer fliers private "garages" for their planes. Currently all the hangars of this type are fully occupied, officials said.
The airport is expecting a $42,000 increase in revenue next year, in part because of a new hangar rental agreement with National Marine, which plans to fly potential customers to the area to view high-end boats.
In a move to save money, the port authority finance committee decided not to immediately fill the position of airport director, vacated by Tom Nolan on Jan. 4, but rather have Bowser fill the job on an interim basis.
Nolan was paid $79,500 a year, plus $26,000 in benefits. Bowser is now paid $43,900 a year, plus $18,000 in benefits, but the finance committee anticipated he would get $16,000 more as compensation for the additional duties.
Overall, operating revenue at the airport increased 7 percent on the 2003 budget, and operating expenditures dropped 13 percent.
The budget has not yet been presented to Mahoning County commissioners, or approved by the entire port authority board.
The airport has been jointly supported by Trumbull and Mahoning counties for more than a decade. The amount of the subsidy has varied as various projects have been undertaken to improve the facility. The airport's budget for 2003 does not account for $75,000 that Mahoning County still has not paid from its 2002 pledge.
Several bills, including $60,000 for insurance, come due in the beginning of the year, Bowser said.